Indian army calls off search for rebels in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India (AP) The Indian military called off a search Tuesday for suspected rebels along the disputed border with Pakistan, after two weeks of battles in the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Officials say militants made repeated attempts during that time to enter India along the "Line of Control" that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan, sparking a string of gunbattles.

"I've now given the directions to call off the concerted search," Lt. Gen. Sanjiv Chachra, commander of the Indian army's Northern Command, told a news conference in Srinagar, the region's main city. But he said additional soldiers would be deployed to stop any further incursions.

The Indian army says insurgents trained and armed by Pakistani forces regularly try to enter Indian territory this time of year, before snow blocks the Himalayan passes. India expects that to happen this year as well, Chachra said.

He said Indian soldiers killed eight rebels before the fighting ended last week, with Indian forces recovering communications gear and weapons, including 18 AK-47 assault rifles.

"We knew about their plans. We knew they were coming and we were prepared," Chachra said.

The area along the Line of Control is closed to outsiders, and even to local residents without special permits. Few details have emerged about the gunbattles, or even independent confirmation that they occurred. Lt. Gen. Gurmeet Singh, another Indian army commander, said last week that 12 militants had been killed in the fighting.

Lawmakers in Indian Kashmir have raised doubts about the fighting, which the military says happened a few kilometers (miles) inside Indian-held territory in and around the abandoned village of Shala Bhata.

"The government should clarify as to whether those killed are really militants or local Kashmiris," Abdur Rashid, a local lawmaker, earlier told the state assembly.

Chachra called "absolutely false" Indian media reports that some Pakistani soldiers had occupied the village or Indian military outposts near the de facto border. "The sanctity of the Line of Control can never be trampled with," he said.

He accused the Pakistani army of backing the infiltrators, an allegation Islamabad denies.

"The narrative you are hearing about incursions and infiltrations is baseless," Salman Bashir, Pakistani high commissioner in New Delhi, said Sunday, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir since they gained independence from Britain in 1947, while rebel groups have been fighting since 1989 for independence or for merger with neighboring Pakistan, though most resistance is now shown through street protests.

An estimated 68,000 people have been killed in the conflict.

A 2003 cease-fire agreement between India and Pakistan has largely calmed the disputed Kashmir border. But the two sides occasionally accuse each other of violating it by firing mortars or gunshots.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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