- counter-terrorism - India - Kashmir - Lashkar-e-Taiba - Pakistan
REUTERS - An Indian soldier and five Islamist militant fighters were killed in gunbattles in disputed Kashmir, where troops patrolled deserted streets ahead of a planned separatist rally, officials said on Friday.
Among those killed was a senior military commander for banned Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which India blames for last month's attacks on Mumbai that killed 179 people, the Indian military said.
It identified him as Iqbal Malik, who it said was the LeT military commander for southern Kashmir.
Separatists and Islamist militants are trying to disrupt seven-stage state elections in Kashmir, which is claimed by India and Pakistan but ruled in part by both.
The military said Malik was killed with two other fighters when they became trapped in a cave during a gunbattle in mountains in Doda district south of Srinagar on Friday.
"Three LeT militants, including senior commander Iqbal Malik, who got holed up in a mountain cave were killed after a fierce eight-hour-long encounter today," an army spokesman said.
The Indian soldier was also killed during the gunbattle at the cave, the spokesman said. Two militants were killed in another gunfight in northern Kashmir late on Thursday, he said.
India has blamed LeT for the Mumbai attacks and has demanded Pakistan does more to stamp out militant groups on its soil. But the group, formed in Pakistan, has vowed to continue its fight against Indian rule in Kashmir despite the crackdown.
In Srinagar, Kashmir's summer capital, shops, schools and government buildings were closed on Friday after the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, the main separatist alliance, called for a general strike in protest against the elections.
Thousands of troops patrolled deserted streets and sealed off residential areas in an attempt to thwart a planned anti-election rally, local officials said. New Delhi says high voter turnouts in the first six stages of the election in mainly rural areas are a vindication of its rule in Kashmir. Srinagar votes in the last phase on Dec. 24.
Violence in Kashmir fell significantly after India and Pakistan began slow-moving peace talks in 2004. India has called a pause in those talks after the Mumbai attacks.
Officials say more than 47,000 people have been killed since a revolt against New Delhi's rule broke out in 1989. Separatists put the toll at 100,000.