SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - India’s military is fighting the biggest group of infiltrators in Kashmir to cross from Pakistan in years, a top general said on Wednesday.
Some 30 to 40 heavily-armed fighters have crossed the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between the rival nations in the Keran sector and are holed up for the past nine days in thick forests in the area, Lieutenant General Gurmit Singh told a news conference.
India says rebel incursions have been rising in Kashmir over the past year, feeding an armed revolt there, but these groups were usually made up of five or six people.
“The army is fighting the largest group of infiltrators including some special troops on the Line of Control with Pakistan in Indian territory. It’s one of the longest operations in Kashmir,” said Singh, who leads the Indian army’s 15 corps that is responsible for operations in the Kashmir Valley.
The army has killed 10 to 12 of them, he said. On Tuesday night, another group of 10 men had tried to cross over to join the militants holed up some 200 to 300 meters on India’s side of Kashmir.
There was no immediate comment from Pakistan. Islamabad denies it is helping militants cross the largely fenced border with India and has urged India to hold talks to tackle the decades old dispute over the region.
The latest fighting was taking place as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif pledged in New York last weekend to work towards strengthening a 10-year-old ceasefire that has frayed in recent months.
But they failed to announce any concrete measures to advance peace talks that have been slow to recover since 2008 when Pakistan-based militants attacked India’s financial centre Mumbai for three days and killed 166 people.
Singh denied Indian media reports that the insurgents had taken over a village in the Keran sector and said the military was fully in control of the situation.
“The operation is being carried out in a calibrated manner ... We are not rushing through as rushing through will mean the risk of (our) own casualties.”
In 1999 Pakistan-backed irregular troops crossed into the Kargil sector in northern Kashmir and occupied bunkers along a vast swath of the Line of Control, prompting a massive Indian air and ground offensive to repel them.
Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Ralph Boulton