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Seven die in Indian army gunfight with Kashmir rebels

At least seven people have died in a firefight between Indian government troops and rebels in the Kashmir region. The battle came after a tipoff brought soldiers to a village to look for rebels.

Five suspected rebels and two Indian soldiers were killed in the gunbattle in Indian-administered Kashmir, Indian army officials said on Saturday.

The 16-hour exchange of fire began on Friday in the border village of Marsari, 130 kilometers (80 miles) northwest of the Himalayan region's main city of Srinigar.

Government forces cordoned off a village in the northern Kupwara region after they received a tipoff that militants were hiding there, army spokesman Col. Nitin Joshi said.

The soldiers closed in on an apparently abandoned house which the rebels were thought to be using as a base. Militants holed up inside were then said to have opened fire and intermittent gunfire continued through the night into Saturday.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the rebels. Islamabad strongly denies the accusation but says the rebels are freedom fighters.

Kashmir has been divided since the end of British rule in 1947 along a heavily militarized Line of Control, which is close to the scene of the latest fighting. India and Pakistan have fought three wars over the region since independence.

More than a dozen rebel groups operated in the Indian-administered part of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority population. The militants have been fighting for independence from Hindu-majority India or to be merged with Muslim-majority Pakistan since an insurgency that has claimed an estimated 44,000 lives erupted in 1989.

rc/jlw (ap, AFP, dpa)