SRINAGAR, INDIA // Government forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir shot and killed two suspected rebels today, ending a more than 20-hour-long gunbattle that paralysed the region's main city. The attack was the first prolonged gunfight in Srinagar since 2006 and raised concerns about a possible spike in violence in the tense region after years of declining attacks. The heavily militarised territory is claimed in its entirety by both India and neighbouring Pakistan - both nuclear armed nations - and the dispute has sparked two wars between the rival countries.
The attackers entered a crowded shopping area in Srinagar yesterday afternoon and hurled hand grenades and opened fire at a group of soldiers, killing one police officer and one bystander, according to police official Farooq Ahmed. The assailants then took refuge in a hotel, where they held off troops throughout the night. Early today, government forces fought their way into the hotel, killing the men, said Mr Ahmed. Government soldiers were searching the area for any leftover explosives and any other suspicious items.
The fighting also wounded 10 others, including four soldiers, he said. One portion of the hotel, which is located in the usually crowded Lal Chowk area in the heart of the city, caught fire during the prolonged gunbattle. Fire engines were trying to douse the flames. Dozens of armoured vehicles swarmed the business district, which was closed to the public after the attack. The wounded civilians, who were hospitalised with bullet and shrapnel wounds, included a cameraman from a television news channel, said police officer Sajad Ahmed.
Jamiat-ul-Mujahedeen, one of the rebel groups active in the area, claimed responsibility for the attack in a fax sent to the Press Trust of India news agency. "The attack is in response to India's propaganda that the armed struggle has weakened in Kashmir," the statement said. After the attack began yesterday, hundreds of locals gathered on the edges of the district and chanted pro-independence slogans and clashed with troops, who used bamboo batons and tear gas to disperse them.
Anti-India sentiments run deep in the majority Muslim region, where more than a dozen rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India, or its merger with neighbouring Pakistan, since 1989. More than 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict. * AP