17 dead as militants storm Kashmir army camp

Indian army soldiers search for suspected militants as smoke rises from a bunker after a gunbattle in Mohra in Uri Dec 5, 2014. Militants hurling grenades stormed an army camp in Indian Kashmir on Friday, killing 11 troops and police in a day of
Indian army soldiers search for suspected militants as smoke rises from a bunker after a gunbattle in Mohra in Uri Dec 5, 2014. Militants hurling grenades stormed an army camp in Indian Kashmir on Friday, killing 11 troops and police in a day of violence in the Muslim-majority state where local elections are being held. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

URI, India (AFP) - Militants hurling grenades stormed an army camp in Indian Kashmir on Friday, killing 11 troops and police in a day of violence in the Muslim-majority state where local elections are being held.

Six of the attackers also died in the audacious raid on the barracks in Uri, near the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) dividing the disputed Himalayan territory between India and Pakistan.

It was the highest number of security officers killed in a single day in the state since June 2013, and came on a day of violence across Kashmir.

Two rebels died in a gun battle in the residential outskirts of Srinagar, the flashpoint region's main city.

In Tral, south of Srinagar, a grenade lobbed at an election campaign vehicle missed its target and killed an elderly bystander at a bus stop, injuring six others.

The violence comes ahead of a campaign visit Monday by India's new right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making a bid for power in Kashmir.

Modi will address a campaign rally for the BJP, which is staging a bold attempt to seize control of the Jammu and Kashmir legislature - a move unthinkable until very recently.

The Hindu nationalist party has traditionally had no base in the Kashmir Valley, where local resentment against Indian rule runs high.

HIGH TURNOUT

Modi tweeted that the attacks were "desperate attempts to derail the atmosphere of hope and goodwill as seen by increased voter turnout".

The defence ministry said the "heavily armed and well equipped" militants stormed the barracks in the early hours of Friday, triggering a gun battle that lasted for over six hours.

Police said the militants entered the high-walled Uri camp, throwing grenades and firing automatic weapons.

By mid-afternoon, shooting had ceased and security forces were "defusing unexploded grenades", a police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The strongly fortified army camp, home to several hundred soldiers, lies 100km north-west of Srinagar.

Thousands of extra paramilitary troops have been deployed in Kashmir to protect voters from attacks by militants, who have called on residents to boycott the state elections.

Most separatist leaders were either arrested or confined to their houses after the elections were announced.

About a dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or to merge the territory with Pakistan.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars over the scenic region, while years of fighting have left tens of thousands dead, most of them civilians.

Earlier this week a big gun battle caused the deaths of an Indian soldier and six militants, while on Monday suspected rebels shot dead a village leader.

Despite the violence, turnout has been high so far in with over 70 per cent of the electorate casting ballots in 33 constituencies, defying calls by separatist leaders and militants to boycott the polls.

The BJP is seeking to leverage support from the Hindu-dominated south of Jammu and Kashmir state and the Buddhist area of Ladakh as well as from Muslims tired of years of conflict.

The election results are due on Dec 23.