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Militants Kill 15 Hindus in Indian Kashmir - 2001-08-04

Authorities in Indian Kashmir say separatist Muslim militants have killed at least 15 Hindu villagers and injured five. The latest killings come as violence escalates in the disputed region where a separatist Muslim insurgency has raged for more than a decade.

Officials say about 20 villagers were kidnapped at gunpoint overnight by a group of Muslim militants who entered the remote Doda district. Most of the abducted villagers were killed.

The bodies of the victims were found in a forest near the village of Shroddhar, about 240 kilometers north of the state's winter capital Jammu.

Police said they learned of the massacre when the village chief walked to the nearest police post. He said he witnessed the abduction, and later heard the sound of gunshots.

The injured men have been airlifted by helicopters to hospitals.

Officials are blaming Muslim militants for the massacre, which occurred in the same region where 15 Hindus were dragged out of their homes and killed two weeks ago, soon after a summit between the leaders of India and Pakistan ended in a deadlock - apparently over the Kashmir dispute.

After the summit's failure, separatist militants said they would step up attacks against Indian forces in Kashmir.

Security forces have launched a search for the attackers and other possible hostages who may have survived.

A curfew has also been imposed to prevent news of the attack sparking further violence. The Doda district has a substantial Hindu population.

Tens of thousands of security forces are in Kashmir to battle the insurgents. But authorities say many shepherds move up to high mountain passes in the summer months to graze their animals on the lush meadows -and are more vulnerable in these remote areas.

Indian authorities say 30,000 people have been killed in Kashmir since a Muslim insurgency flared in 1989. Pakistani-based militant groups say twice that number have died in insurgency-related violence.