Eight die as rebels clash with government forces

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The Independent Online

At least eight people have died after separatist militants and security forces fought a fierce gunbattle in northern Kashmir state.

Separatist militants and security forces were fighting a fierce gunbattle in northern Kashmir state today and at least eight people were feared dead, police said.

The confrontation began yesterday when a police patrol raided a house in Dudsan Bala, a village in Rajouri district, following a tip off that at least 10 militants were hiding there, police said. Rajouri, a frontier district bordering India's rival Pakistan, is 150 miles northwest of Jammu, the state's winter capital.

Policemen found an underground hide–out and tried to enter it but were fired upon by the militants. One policeman was killed and another injured in the ensuing shootout.

Inspector General of Police RV Raju said militants hiding in surrounding mountains also fired on police who then blasted the house with mortars, reducing it to rubble.

Raju said seven or eight militants were believed killed in the fighting, though an exact casualty figure could be given only when the rubble was cleared. He said all the fighters were foreign militants.

Dozens of political and militant groups are fighting for an independent Kashmiri homeland or for a merger with Pakistan. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of fermenting and backing the insurgency, a charge Pakistan denies. Most of the groups are headquartered in Pakistan.

More than 30,000 people have been killed since the fighting began in 1989. Human rights groups say more than 60,000 have died.

Yesterday, the Pakistan–based Hizb–e–Islami group claimed responsibility for the attack and said its members had killed two policemen.

The gunbattle in Dudsan Bala was continuing between army soldiers and militants hiding in the surrounding mountains, police said.