Srinagar: India’s army, which says it has been locked in a nearly two-week battle with dozens of suspected Pakistan-backed rebels, said on Saturday it killed seven militants in 24 hours in Kashmir.
The military says it has been fighting 30 to 40 rebel infiltrators who crossed the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan last month.
“Four militants were killed in the Fateh Gali area” of Kashmir on Saturday, Colonel Rajesh Kalia said, adding three other rebel suspects were killed in another gunbattle in nearby Gujardur area the previous day.
Kalia said assault rifles, pistols and rocket launchers were found at the scene of the latest firefight, just west of the abandoned village of Shala Bhattu in Kashmir’s Keran sector.
The fighting has been taking place in and around Shala Bhattu, 140 kilometres northwest of the main city of Srinagar, in densely forested terrain high in the Himalayas since September 23.
The Indian army says the infiltrators may include some special Pakistani troops - its Border Action Teams (BATs) that the Indians say are a mix of specially trained Pakistani troops and militants.
But Islamabad has denied any involvement in the fighting.
It is one of the longest Indian army operations to flush out militants in Kashmir in recent years.
“The terrorists are holed up,” General Bikram Singh, the Indian army chief, said on Friday, but added “it is difficult, treacherous terrain”.
“We will take them on. It is a question of time,” he said, declining to indicate when the fighting might end.
An Indian army commander said late last month 12 suspected militants were killed in Shala Bhattu. No other casualty figures have been given since the fighting erupted.
The scale of the alleged incursion has led to Indian media talk of a “mini-Kargil” situation, a reference to a Pakistani intrusion into Kashmir’s Kargil region in 1999 that left hundreds dead on both sides. But the Indian army has rejected such suggestions.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.
The latest killings follow talks between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh last weekend on the sidelines of a UN meeting.
The two leaders agreed to try to defuse tensions along the LoC, where regular firefights between the two armies have taken place this year, resulting in deaths on both sides.
Sharif is seeking new peace talks with India to settle Kashmir and other outstanding differences, but Singh has been reluctant until Pakistan cracks down on Pakistan-based militant leaders who masterminded the deadly 2008 Mumbai attacks.
The two countries blame each other for over 100 violations of the ceasefire since the year’s start.