All 12 hostages freed in Kashmir
NEW DELHI (AP) - Twelve Kashmiri civilians held hostage for a day by suspected Islamic militants in a village house have been freed, and soldiers were engaging the holed-up rebels in a gunbattle Tuesday, police and army officers said.
All the hostages were unharmed.
After a tip-off on where in the building the militants and hostages were located, soldiers fired tear gas and told the hostages to flee, Col. Dharm Adhikari told The Associated Press.
"We suspect that these are operatives of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba,'' Adhikari said of the militants, who entered the house early Monday. Lashkar, the most feared of the dozen-odd militant groups operating in Indian-controlled Kashmir, is believed to be active in the area.
The rebels have been fighting since 1989 to create a separate homeland or merge Indian-controlled Kashmir into Pakistan, plunging the Himalayan region into an unending cycle of violence that has killed more than 63,000 people.
The former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India, and both nations demand control over the entire region.
They have fought two wars over Kashmir.
Soldiers surrounded the house in Tharyun village, about 70 kilometers (40 miles) south of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, and there was intermittent shooting with the gunmen, estimated by the army at the time to be four in number.
Five of the hostages were village elders whom paramilitary soldiers sent into the house to try to persuade the militants to surrender, said Senior Superintendent of Police Vipul Kumar.
The seven other hostages lived in the house, he said.
An appeal to free the hostages was made Tuesday morning from a megaphone in the local mosque, Kumar said.
However, there had been no response. - AP