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Militants Kill 7 in Kashmir - 2004-06-13

In Indian Kashmir, authorities have stepped up security following attacks that killed at least seven people, including two tourists, and injured dozens of others. The attacks have come at a time when domestic tourism to the Himalayan region is on the rise.

Authorities say suspected Muslim militants targeted a group of tourists Saturday when they hurled a grenade at a crowded restaurant in Pahalgam, a popular holiday resort about 100 kilometers south of Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar. Four people died, including two tourists, and more than twenty were injured.

A little-known rebel group called al-Nasireen claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesman for the militants told reporters the attack was a warning to visitors that Kashmir is still a disputed territory.

In another attack, a hand grenade tossed at an army checkpoint in the border district of Kupwara missed its target, but wounded nearly two dozen civilians.

Meanwhile, authorities say three suspected militants were killed in a gun battle about 100 kilometers north of Srinagar.

The spate of attacks has raised worries that the violence may scare away tourists from other parts of India, who have been flocking to Kashmir in droves. They have been encouraged by a relative lull in violence in recent months, and by recent peace moves between India and Pakistan.

An estimated 100,000 tourists have visited the state since the summer holiday season began in April, up from just 20,000 the previous year.

Kashmir's economy is traditionally dependent on tourism, but few visitors have traveled to the region since 1989, when nearly a dozen Islamic groups began fighting to free the Muslim-majority province from Indian control.

These Islamic groups have vowed to continue their struggle, despite signs of progress in the long-running dispute over Kashmir between India and Pakistan. Both countries claim all of Kashmir, which is divided between them.

India for years has accused the Pakistan government of supporting the Muslim militants. Islamabad denies the accusation.

The South Asian rivals are expected to discuss their dispute over Kashmir at talks later this month between foreign ministry officials. The new Indian government also says it is likely to hold talks with Kashmiri separatist groups in July.