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Indian Fighter Plane Crashes in Kashmir - 2002-12-26

An Indian air force fighter plane crashed in Indian Kashmir, killing at least one person on the ground and injuring another. Authorities say three civilians have also been killed by suspected Islamic militants in the region.

Indian officials say the MiG-21 was making "a routine sortie" when it crashed into a village home near the summer capital, Srinagar.

The pilot ejected safely, but the casualties occurred when a house hit by the plane went up in flames.

The Russian-built MiG-21's are the mainstay of the Indian airforce, but several experts say they have a poor safety record. Nearly 170 of these fighter planes have crashed in the past decade.

Meanwhile, the insurgency-wracked region has witnessed more violence blamed on Islamic militants. Officials say gunmen burst into the home of a village schoolteacher shortly before dawn in Gopalpora village, southeast of Srinagar. The suspected militants are reported to have opened fire, killing the teacher and his two sons.

Angry villagers protested the killings.

It was the latest in a string of deadly attacks that have targeted civilians, including women and children, in the past month. Violence has continued unabated in the region since a new government took power last month, promising to open a dialogue with separatist militants.

The ruling People's Democratic Party has also been a victim of the violence. One of its lawmakers was killed by suspected militants last week as he came out of a mosque after Friday prayers.

His killing has prompted the police to issue new security guidelines for lawmakers and political leaders, advising public figures to frequently change the routes they use, the places of worship they visit, and also to avoid large crowds.

Meanwhile, defense officials say soldiers killed four separatist rebels trying to cross from Pakistani territory into Indian Kashmir in the Poonch sector.

More than 35,000 people have been killed since 1989 in violence related to a Muslim separatist insurgency in Kashmir.