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September 20, 2017

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Clashes as Kashmir rebels assault Indian army base

SRINAGAR, India--Rebels fighting against Indian rule in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir stormed an Indian military base Tuesday morning, triggering a fierce gun battle that left two army officers and a militant dead, officials said.

At the same time in another part of Kashmir, Indian border forces came across three suspected militants who had allegedly crossed the border from Pakistan into India, touching off another exchange of fire in which all three were killed, paramilitary officials said.

The renewed violence followed a five-day lull in fighting between Indian and Pakistani troops, who have been exchanging heavy mortar and artillery fire for months across the de facto border that divides Kashmir between the two nations. India has accused Pakistan of helping anti-India rebels stage deadly attacks on its military compounds — an allegation Pakistan denies.

Early Tuesday, at least two militants opened fire on the military camp in Nagrota, a town on the main highway connecting Kashmir's two main cities of Srinagar and Jammu, according to senior police officer S.P. Vaid.

The militants then stormed the base and made their way to an area of the compound storing artillery, lobbing grenades and drawing troops into exchanging fire, Vaid said. Two Indian soldiers as well as one militant were killed in the fighting, he said.

With the militants hiding within the compound, the gun battle was still raging inside.

Army officials described the rebels as "fidayeen," a term for militants ready to sacrifice their lives for a cause.

No other details were immediately available.

The attack was the most audacious to target an Indian military base since the Sept. 18 assault on an army base in the town of Uri. That attack left 19 Indian army soldiers dead and escalated tensions between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.

India accused Pakistan of helping those militants with weapons, training and logistics, and said it sent troops across the border to launch "surgical strikes" against militants in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.

Since then, soldiers from both sides have pounded each other's military positions along the U.N.-drawn cease-fire line, now referred to as the Line of Control. At least 73 people, including civilians and soldiers, have been killed on both sides.

Meanwhile, relations at the government level have worsened, with the two nations expelling diplomats from their capitals as each side accuses the other of starting the fight.

India's Border Security Force said its soldiers on Tuesday gunned down three suspected militants who had infiltrated from Pakistan and were hiding behind bushes in the border district of Samba.

While clearing the militants' bodies, one of them — allegedly booby-trapped — exploded and injured four Indian soldiers and a police officer, according to a border officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief journalists.

India and Pakistan each administer a portion of Kashmir, but both claim the territory in its entirety. They have fought two wars over those claims since 1947.

Meanwhile, rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for the Muslim-majority region to either gain independence or merge with Pakistan. At least 70,000 people have been killed in that uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.

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