SRINAGAR, Sept 26: Militants dressed in Indian army uniform stormed a police station and an army base in India-held Kashmir on Thursday morning, killing 10 in an attack the region’s chief minister said was aimed at derailing peace talks between India and Pakistan.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed the attack “barbaric” but, without mentioning Pakistan, said it would not derail efforts to pursue peace through dialogue.
“This is one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of peace,” Mr Singh said in a statement. “Such attacks will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue.”
Mr Singh and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are set to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly for highly anticipated talks in the next few days.
Meanwhile, officials in held Kashmir said three militants lobbed grenades and opened fire at the Hiranagar police station near the border with Pakistan, killing four policemen. They then hijacked a truck and drove to a nearby army base in Samba district where a fierce gunbattle with soldiers took place and Indian tanks were deployed, eyewitnesses and police said.
“Four policemen and two civilians were killed by the militants in the attack on the police station,” police official Ashok Prasad said. Two other policemen and a civilian were injured.
A senior army officer, who did not want to be named, said that four soldiers, including an officer, were killed in the gunbattle inside the army base.
A witness said the militants targeted the cleaner of the truck as they fled the police station. “They asked him where the driver was. They then killed the cleaner and asked the driver to drive them off,” said the man, who did not give his name.
While helicopters hovered overhead, a witness heard sporadic explosions and gunfire as Indian forces closed in, and eventually killed the gunmen who were holed up in a building.
“All the three militants have been killed in the Samba army camp operation. Three army men, including a lieutenant colonel rank officer, are dead,” said army spokesman Rajesh Kalia.
Just a day before the assault, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he would meet his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on the weekend. They are expected to discuss violence in Kashmir.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah alleged that the attackers had entered the disputed territory from Pakistan the previous day.
Mr Abdullah told reporters the raid appeared designed to upset plans for a meeting between Mr Singh and Mr Sharif.
“Given the history, timing and location, the aim is to derail the proposed meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart,” he said. “There are forces that are inimical to peace and want to derail any peace process.”
India’s state-run television quoted Interior Minister Sushilkumar Shinde as saying the militants had entered from Pakistan.
‘INFILTRATORS’ KILLED: In a separate incident, the Indian army claimed it had killed at least a dozen militants from a group of 30 it alleged had crossed over from Pakistan into northern Kashmir. Lt Gen Gurmeet Singh said that operation was still going on.
Immediately after the attack in Samba, politicians from India’s nationalist opposition party called for the cancellation of the weekend talks.—Reuters/AFP