SAMBA, India (Reuters) - Militants dressed in Indian army uniforms attacked Indian police and soldiers near the border with Pakistan on Thursday, killing nine people and triggering calls for talks between the prime ministers of the rival nations to be called off.
Just a day before the twin assault in the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he would meet his Pakistan counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on the weekend.
The leaders of the nuclear-armed neighbours are expected to discuss rising violence in Kashmir. Indian Kashmir’s chief minister said the assault was an attempt to derail the talks.
A group of three gunmen attacked a police station in the morning, about 10 km (6 miles) from the border with Pakistan, killing five policemen. They then hijacked a truck and raided an army camp, security forces said. One civilian was killed.
The militants killed three soldiers during hours of fighting at the camp, near the town of Samba.
While helicopters hovered overhead, a Reuters witness heard sporadic explosions and gunfire as Indian forces closed in on, and eventually killed, the gunmen who were holed up in a building.
“All the three militants have been killed in the Samba army camp operation. Three army men including a lieutenant colonel rank officer are dead,” said army spokesman Rajesh Kalia.
India’s state-run television news channel quoted interior minister Sushilkumar Shinde as saying the militants had entered from Pakistan.
Pakistan’s army and government were not immediately available for comment.
India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Muslim-majority Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.
India has accused Pakistan of supporting militants fighting security forces in Indian Kashmir since 1989.
Militant strikes in India’s Kashmir, as well as shooting and mortar fire between Indian and Pakistani forces across the border, have risen this year after a decade of falling violence.
Some Indian officials fear that a new wave of Pakistan-based militants from Islamist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba will turn to India as Western troops leave Afghanistan next year.
In a separate incident, the Indian army said it had killed at least a dozen militants from a group of 30 it said had crossed over from Pakistan into northern Kashmir. Lieutenant General Gurmeet Singh said that operation was still going on.
Immediately after the attack in Samba, politicians from India’s nationalist opposition party called for the cancellation of the weekend talks. They will be the first between the two leaders since Sharif was re-elected in May following an election campaign in which he called for better ties with India.
While Prime Minister Singh strongly condemned what he called a “heinous terrorist attack” he suggested the meeting With Sharif, expected on Sunday, would go ahead.
“This is one more in a series of provocations and barbaric actions by the enemies of peace,” Singh said in a statement. “Such attacks will not deter us and will not succeed in derailing our efforts to find a resolution to all problems through a process of dialogue.”
Yashwant Sinha, a leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, said there was no point talking to Pakistan if it was unable to prevent such attacks on India.
“We are not going to achieve anything and therefore I have no hesitation in saying that the prime minister should call off the talks ... I insist he should call off the talks even at this stage.” he said.
Pakistan denies arming or training militants, but says it offers moral support to the Muslim people of Kashmir who it says face rights abuses by Indian forces.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, which tracks violence in Kashmir, 128 people, including 44 security personnel, have been killed in the region this year, before the latest attack. That compares with 117 people killed in 2012.
Reporting by Mukesh Gupta in SAMBA; Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR; Additional reporting by Sruthi Gottipati in NEW DELHI; Writing by John Chalmers and Anurag Kotoky; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Robert Birsel