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Kashmir Attacks Claim 9 Lives - 2004-07-03

In Indian Kashmir, a string of attacks by suspected Islamic militants has claimed nine lives and wounded dozens of people. Violence swept the region just days after India and Pakistan held peace talks aimed at ending their dispute over the divided region.

Authorities say a bomb hidden in a hand cart exploded on a main highway in Kashmir's summer capital, Sringar, Saturday morning. At least two civilians were killed, and many people passing by were injured in the blast, which occurred close to the city's main tourist attraction, the Dal Lake.

Hours later, suspected Islamic militants hurled a hand grenade in a crowded market in Anantnag town, about 50 kilometers north of Srinagar. The attack wounded several soldiers and dozens of civilians - many critically.

Armed encounters between the police and militants in the mountainous region claimed more lives. Several militants and soldiers were killed in a fierce gunbattle in north Kashmir. At least two policemen were killed and several wounded when militants attacked a police post in Poonch district.

Police believe the attacks that killed and wounded civilians were in retaliation for a recent crackdown against one of the main Islamic militant groups, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is waging a separatist insurgency in Indian Kashmir. Days ago, police arrested 20 people who they said belonged to the group. Authorities said the arrested men were planning a string of terrorist attacks that included blowing up the country's main stock exchange in Bombay.

Authorities also say militants have stepped-up attacks in the region to scare away domestic tourists, who have been flooding the region in recent weeks, encouraged by recent peace moves between India and Pakistan.

Earlier this week, the two countries held their first dialogue in three years over the divided region, and said they were committed to solving their dispute over Kashmir through negotiations. Both countries claim the entire region, and have fought two wars over it.

Despite easing tensions between the two countries, violence has continued to wrack the region under Indian control. Islamic militant groups say they will ignore the peace moves, and continue their struggle to free the region from Indian control. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the insurgency, which erupted in 1989.