5 dead in 24-hour gunbattle in Indian Kashmir

A second soldier was killed Sunday in a continuing gunbattle between militants and troops and police in Indian Kashmir, taking the overall death toll in the day-long clashes to five.

The attackers, thought to number three or four, ambushed a paramilitary convoy on the outskirts of the restive region's main city of Srinagar on Saturday, killing two soldiers and wounding another 13, officials have said.

The militants, who are fighting against Indian rule over the disputed Himalayan region, then fled to a nearby government building and forced more than 120 trainees and staff inside to leave.

Fresh firing erupted on Sunday morning after the Central Reserve Police Force and soldiers surrounded the training institute overnight, with the militants still holed up inside.

Indian army spokesman N.N. Joshi told AFP that a soldier died in the firing, hours after an army captain was also shot and killed.

Police said a civilian gardener injured during the initial crossfire also died.

Witnesses said the heavily armed militants had told students and staff at the government-run Entrepreneurship Development Institute to leave immediately on Saturday and "save themselves".

As the gunbattle raged, hundreds of nearby residents came out on the streets in a show of support for the rebels, throwing stones at government forces who fired tear gas to disperse them, said Central Reserve Police Force spokesman Bhavesh Chaudhary.

An police officer said on condition of anonymity that at least three protesters were injured by tear gas canisters.  

Police last week ordered residents to stay away from such gunbattles, after two students were killed during similar protests in the southern Kashmir valley.

Since 1989 several rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces deployed in the Kashmir region, seeking either independence or a merger of the territory with neighbouring Pakistan.

The fighting has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead.

Kashmir has been divided between rivals India and Pakistan since they won independence from Britain in 1947. Both claim the Himalayan territory in full.

Overall violence in the restive territory has sharply declined during the last decade, but armed clashes between rebels and government forces still break out regularly.   

 

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