18 Rebels, Two Civilians Die in Fresh Kashmir Shootouts

May 4, 2002 - 0:0
SRINAGAR, India -- Indian troops gunned down 18 Muslim rebels in Kashmir overnight and Friday, while two civilians also died in separatist-linked violence, police said. The Indian army shot dead seven Pakistani militants in south Kashmir early Friday as they tried to cross over the disputed border with Pakistan, police said. The troops had spotted the militants at Bhimbergali in the Rajouri area, 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Kashmir's winter capital Jammu. Police said a gunbattle broke out between the two sides and Pakistani troops provided covering fire to the militants, but that their attempt to get back failed. Troops managed to recover five bodies, but two were still lying on the line of control -- the de facto border dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan -- as heavy firing by the Pakistanis was making it difficult to approach, police said. The Indian army recovered six AK-47 rifles, a pistol and some ammunition from the bodies of the militants. Six more militants were shot dead by the Indian army in the Surankote area of adjoining Poonch district late Thursday, police said. "The six were killed during an encounter sparked by a cordon and search operation of the army," a police spokesman said, adding the six belonged to the Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group. Jaish and another Pakistan-based group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, were blamed by India for an attack on its Parliament in December that killed 14 and sent tensions spiralling between the nuclear-armed neighbors. Five more militants were killed elsewhere in Kashmir. Two civilians also died, including one who was beheaded after being abducted, police said. At least 35,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since an Islamic insurgency against Indian rule broke out in 1989. Separatists put the death toll twice as high. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of arming and funding separatist guerrillas who infiltrate the disputed border to fight Indian forces. Pakistan denies the charge, saying it only provides moral and diplomatic support to an "indigenous struggle for self-determination."