Four killed in militant attack in India's Jammu and Kashmir

Four people including a photojournalist were killed in an attack by suspected militants in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday, police sources said, dpa reported.

A group of militants entered the house of Hoshiar Singh in Kali Mandi village in Samba sector, about 45 kilometres south of the state's winter capital Jammu, and killed Singh and his wife Sashibala, police said. The couple's daughter and Singh's mother-in-law were injured in the attack.

The villagers alerted security forces stationed nearby, who engaged the militants in a gun battle. A Jammu-based photojournalist Ashok Sodhi and one soldier died of gunshots wounds.

The militants took shelter in another house in the village and the exchange of fire continued, the sources said. A woman and a young girl were believed to be trapped in the house.

A senior police official said the militants may be part of a group of men that crossed into the sector Thursday night from Pakistan.

India's Border Security Force claimed it foiled an infiltration bid by Pakistan-based militants on Thursday and a dozen militants had retreated after firing several rounds and hurling grenades.

But some groups of militants may have already positioned themselves in the area with plans to attack pilgrims to the holy Hindu shrine of Amarnath, police sources said.

The route to the cave shrine in the high Himalayas passes through the Sambha sector. The first group of pilgrims is scheduled to leave on June 18. The pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave is held for a short period of about two months every year in June-July.

There have been militant attacks on the pilgrims in the past. At least 32 pilgrims were killed in a militant attack in 2000. The authorities routinely make elaborate arrangements for the security of the ritual.

Kashmir has been at the root of tense relations between the South Asian neighbours since their independence from British rule in 1947. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, which is currently divided into two regions, one administered by India and the other by Pakistan.

An estimated 40,000 people between civilians, militants and security forces have been killed in political violence in India-administered Kashmir since 1990.

India accuses Pakistan of aiding and abetting Kashmiri secessionist militants. Pakistan denies the allegations, saying the the Kashmiri militants are local freedom fighters.

The latest incident in Sambha came ahead of Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee's visit to Islamabad scheduled later this month for a review of a four-year-old peace dialogue between the neighbours.

India and Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire along the Kashmir line of control in November 2003, and resumed a peace process in 2004 to negotiate contentious issues including the dispute over Kashmir.

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