Five soldiers and 3 rebels killed in Kashmir clashes

4/07/2008 - 15:13

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - The leader of a Pakistan based militant group and his bodyguard have been killed in Indian Kashmir, police said on Friday, while at least five soldiers and another separatist guerrilla died in a separate gun battle.

Abu Atif, killed on Thursday to the south of the summercapital of Srinagar, was described by Indian police as theoperational chief of Lashkar-e-Taiba in Kashmir.

"Atif's killing is a big blow to the militantorganisation," said S.M. Sahai, the inspector general ofpolice.

"Besides killing at least 50 civilians and security forcepersonnel, Atif was also responsible for planning attacks indifferent parts of the country."

His bodyguard was also killed, police said.

In another incident, five more Indian soldiers and aseparatist guerrilla were killed on Friday in a prolonged gunbattle that first broke out on Tuesday, an army spokesman said,taking the death toll from that clash to 18.

It was the heaviest toll in a single firefight in theHimalayan region for two years.

A soldier and 11 rebels had earlier been killed in thebattle, which broke out in Kupwara Forest close to the "Line ofControl" that divides the disputed region between India andPakistan.

India accuses Pakistan of arming, training and sendingmilitants to its part of Kashmir, a charge Islamabad denies.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed since a revoltagainst Indian rule broke out in 1989.

Officials say violence involving Indian troops andseparatist militants has declined in Kashmir since the twosouth Asian neighbours, who have fought wars over the region,began a slow-moving peace process in 2004.

Both claim the region in full but rule in parts.

But people are still killed in daily shootouts andoccasional bomb attacks.

(Reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq; Editing by Jonathan Allen andAlex Richardson)

(For the latest Reuters news on India see: in.reuters.com,for blogs see blogs.reuters.com/in/ )

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