Two militants killed after gun battle at Kashmir school

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Two militants killed after gun battle at Kashmir school

Srinagar (India) (AFP) - Two militants were killed in Indian-administered Kashmir Sunday following an intense gun battle with government forces at a school, police said.

Rebels had ambushed a paramilitary police patrol on Saturday evening, killing one trooper and injuring two others in a hail of bullets, before fleeing into the nearby school on the outskirts of the region's main city of Srinagar.

Police and soldiers had surrounded the school as the militants continued firing on them, according to Muneer Ahmed Khan, inspector general of police in Kashmir.

"The gun battle is over. Two militants have been killed," director general of police S.P. Vaid told AFP. He said neither of the dead men were locals and police only knew their code names.

The Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which ends with the upcoming Eid al-Fitr feast, has been a particularly bloody one for mainly Muslim Kashmir.

Fifty-one people have been killed this Ramadan in the restive region according to Khurram Parvez from the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, which monitors conflict-related deaths.

Among the dead was a policeman beaten to death by an angry mob outside a mosque on Thursday. Earlier that same day, a civilian was killed and several wounded when troops opened fire on a crowd gathered for the funeral of three rebels slain by Indian soldiers.

A week earlier, six officers were ambushed and killed by suspected rebels.

- Civilian toll -

More civilians and militants were among the dead this Ramadan than last, Parvez said.

The conflict has increasingly drawn in civilians, many of whom oppose Indian rule. Whole communities sometimes come out to throw stones at government forces as they fight militants.

On Saturday, as troops battled the rebels in the latest clash, civilians rushed the scene chanting anti-Indian slogans and hurling rocks at the soldiers.

Authorities had barred people from coming within five kilometres of Saturday's shooting, and blocked the highway connecting Srinagar with the restive Kashmir Valley to the south.

Clashes between government forces and civilians have worsened in the disputed region since the death of a hugely popular rebel commander last July.

The anniversary of Burhan Wani's death next month is expected to bring more violence.

India last week deployed two additional army battalions -- about 2,000 troops -- to troubled regions in the southern Kashmir area, the Press Trust of India reported.

Officials say dozens of young men have joined rebel ranks since security forces killed Wani, a charismatic and media savvy commander.

Rights groups say 197 people have been killed so far this year in Kashmir, among them 55 civilians.

The territory has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 but both claim it in its entirety.

Rebel groups demanding either Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan have fought police and troops for decades. Tens of thousands, mostly civilians, have died in the fighting.