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Indian Army Kills 15 Islamic Militants in Kashmir - 2003-09-29


In India, the army says it has gunned down 15 suspected Islamic militants in Indian Kashmir. The latest violence comes as Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee says recent peace moves between India and Pakistan have suffered a setback. Army officials say they killed the suspected Muslim rebels as they tried to cross from the Pakistani side of the disputed Kashmir region into the Indian-controlled sector. The overnight (Sunday-Monday) gun battle occurred in thick forests in mountainous Gurez, about 175 kilometers north of Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar.

Army officials say the 15 Islamic militants were part of a larger group hoping to make what they called a "major bid" to infiltrate across the "Line of Control" dividing Kashmir. There is no independent confirmation of the latest clash. Spiraling violence in Kashmir this month has pushed the death toll to 300, which is part of the Muslim separatist insurgency that has wracked the region for the last 14 years. The spurt in violence comes after months of relative quiet in the region and has cast a shadow on peace moves that began in April between India and Pakistan. Peace efforts appeared very shaky last week in New York, when the leaders of India and Pakistan traded sharp exchanges over Kashmir in speeches to the United Nations General Assembly. On his return to New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told reporters the prospects for peace have been damaged. Mr. Vajpayee said the peace moves have taken a blow, and efforts would have to be made to give momentum to the peace process once more. At the United Nations, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called Kashmir "the most dangerous dispute in the world." But he said he would be prepared to encourage a general cessation of violence within Kashmir, if India agreed to a ceasefire along the Line of Control.

In a sharp response, Mr. Vajpayee said that General Musharraf's offer to stop the violence was an admission that Pakistan was controlling it.

India accuses Pakistan of aiding and training Muslim militants fighting to free the part of Kashmir under Indian rule. Islamabad strongly denies the allegation and calls the insurgency an indigenous freedom movement. Muslim militants have been fighting since 1989 to either free Kashmir from India, or merge it with Pakistan. The two nuclear-armed nations have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.