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Militants storm Indian bases in Kashmir, kill 9


Indian army soldiers gather behind a small wall during an attack by militants on an army camp at Mesar in Samba District, some 20kms south-east of Jammu on September 26, 2013. Photo - AFP/STR

Militants stormed a police station and an Indian army base in Kashmir on Thursday, killing at least nine in an attack the state's chief minister said was aimed at derailing peace talks between India and Pakistan.

The militants, all wearing army fatigues, lobbed grenades and opened fire at the Hiranagar police station near the border with Pakistan, around 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the main Kashmiri city of Srinagar, police said.

Around the same time attackers struck at an army base in the nearby Samba district in the southern-most part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir where a fierce gunbattle with soldiers took place and Indian tanks were deployed.

The attacks are set to overshadow a meeting by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this weekend, the first top-level dialogue in three years.

"This attack in Jammu is aimed at derailing the dialogue process," said Omar Abdullah, chief minister of the Jammu and Kashmir state.

Singh condemned "the heinous terrorist attack" in a statement but said that that it "will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue".

Militant attacks have a history of stalling stop-start peace efforts between the two neighbours, who have fought three wars since independence, because New Delhi accuses Pakistan of abetting the groups which strike Indian targets.

The NDTV channel reported that Thursday's attackers may have driven from the police station to the army camp in a hijacked truck, but other security sources cautioned that there might have been separate groups.

"I was inside the dhaba (a roadside eatery) when I saw three men entering the camp firing a barrage of bullets. They opened the gates and entered," one eyewitness told reporters outside the army camp in Samba.

Gunshots could be heard ringing out from inside the walled compound, while two officers could be seen running out carrying an injured man over their shoulder.

At least five policemen and two civilians were killed in the first attack on the police station in Kathua district, a police officer told AFP, and at least two soldiers including an officer died in the second assault, a separate army source who asked not to be named confirmed.

Indian premier Singh confirmed on Wednesday that he would meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif despite calls from the opposition to take a hardline with Islamabad.

Formal peace talks known as the Composite Dialogue are currently off and India has been keen to downplay any expectation they might restart as a result of Sunday's talks.

"Primarily we will see whether the dialogue process that started between the two countries, that stopped and got derailed, can that be brought back on track," Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters at the UN on Wednesday.

Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan territory, is divided between India and Pakistan by a de facto border known as the Line of Control (LoC) but it is claimed in full by both countries.

More than a dozen armed rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan.

The leaders of several groups warned last month of an "unprecedented" surge in attacks on Indian targets as battle-hardened fighters transfer their attention from Afghanistan to the Himalayan region.

Attacks in Indian Kashmir have been at their lowest level since the outbreak of a full-blown insurgency there more than 20 years ago, but the region remains tense with many Kashmiris chafing under tight security.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the fighting by an official count while local rights groups estimate up to 70,000 have lost their lives.

Thursday's attack comes after heavily-armed militants killed eight soldiers in the region in June, in the deadliest such incident in five years.

The military convoy was ambushed on the outskirts of Srinagar, as it headed towards a nearby base camp, marring a landmark visit by Singh to the embattled territory.

In March, militants disguised as cricketers killed five paramilitary police in an ambush also in Srinagar.

Violence in the region has its roots in the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 when the Hindu leader of Kashmir opted for his mostly Muslim subjects to join secular India instead of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

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