29 die in Kashmir gun battle

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A gun battle between suspected Islamic militants and soldiers at an Indian army base in Kashmir today left at least 29 people dead, police said.

Three gunmen wearing army uniforms got off a bus outside an army camp at Kaluchak, six miles south of Jammu, the winter capital of India's northern Jammu-Kashmir state.

The rebels opened fire on the soldiers, said Subhash Raina, a senior superintendent of police. The Indian soldiers returned fire. Seven passengers getting out of the bus were killed, Raina said.

The militants then entered the residential quarters of the army camp and shot dead 13 soldiers, three of their wives and three children, Supt.Raina said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, in which the three militants were also killed.

The suspected militants had boarded the bus at Vijaipur, a small town near India's border with Pakistan.

The attack came as US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca prepared to meet senior Indian officials today to urge Delhi to resume dialogue with Islamabad in an effort to end the six-month standoff between the South Asian nuclear rivals.

More than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.

India and Pakistan have deployed hundreds of thousands of soldiers on their border and the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir, which both countries claim. The military standoff began when suspected Islamic militants attacked India's Parliament on 13 December, killing 14 people.

Delhi blamed the suicide assault on Pakistani-backed Islamic rebels. Islamabad denied the allegation.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamic militant groups and pushing them into India-controlled Kashmir to fight government forces. Pakistan denies this, saying it only provides moral and diplomatic support to the "freedom fighters".

The government says at least 30,000 people have been killed in the fighting. Human rights groups put the death toll at twice that number.