Battle Between Army, Militants Ends In J&K
25 December 2006
Srinagar: A three-day battle between government soldiers and suspected Islamic rebels in a village in Indian-controlled Kashmir ended on Monday, police and army officials said. Two senior leaders of the Lashkar-e- Toiba militant group, one senior army officer and one civilian were killed in the fighting, local police official Viplav Kumar said. The fighting in Tilgam, 45 kilometers (30 miles) north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, started on Saturday when the army cordoned off the village following a tip that rebels were present in the area. Nearly 400 people fled their homes in the village as the fighting raged. 'The gunbattle has stopped but we are still searching the area,' Kumar said, adding that the two killed militants were identified as commander Abu Tahir and his deputy, Abu Omair. There was no independent verification of the claim. Earlier Sunday, a man identifying himself as the spokesman of the Al- Mansoorian militant group called a local newspaper, Daily Excelsior, saying his group was involved in the fighting in Tilgam. He said only one militant, Abu Omair, was killed and Abu Tahir had managed to escape. Al-Mansoorian is one of nearly a dozen rebel groups fighting since 1989 for Muslim-majority Kashmir's independence from predominantly Hindu India or its merger with Islamic Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict. The three-day gunbattle also destroyed three local homes and damaged three others, officials said. Local villagers said the army had fired mortar shells, but army spokesman Col. Hemant Juneja denied the allegation. 'We've fired rockets, not weapons like mortars. Yes, this has caused some damage to property. We'll be able to assess (the damage) only after the operation is over,' Juneja said.