Ten Indian security force personnel and a Muslim civilian were killed yesterday in the deadliest landmine explosion in months in Kashmir amid a surge in violence since the Indian premier visited the region last month.
"There has been a landmine explosion in the village of Batpora [in Pulwama district] in which at least nine Indian soldiers have died," a spokesman said.
He said the soldiers were riding in a private jeep when it ran over the mine killing all 11 people on board, including a policeman and a civilian.
"All the eleven people died instantly with a few of them being blown to pieces," a police spokesman said, adding the village has been sealed by army and paramilitary forces and searches launched to arrest the militants.
Kashmir's pro-Pakistan rebel group Hizbul Mujahedin claimed responsibility for the attack and said 12 soldiers were killed, Srinagar-based Current News Service said. The militants claimed to have snatched six AK assault rifles, three radio sets and a light machine gun from the dead soldiers.
The soldiers were returning to camp from a counter-insurgency operation late Saturday.
It was the deadliest mine explosion since May when 29 soldiers died on a highway in the northern state. Hizbul also claimed responsibility for that attack.
In a separate incident, one or more militants barricaded themselves inside a mosque in Baan village, near Kulgam township, after fleeing a search operation by troops, a police spokesman said.
A team of Indian soldiers had entered the village Saturday evening on a tipoff that militants were hiding there. Troop reinforcements have been rushed to the site and the entire village has been cordoned off.
Troops and the militants were continuing to exchange fire but so far there had been no casualties.
Violence has surged since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Kashmir last month, although nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan began a peace process last year to resolve their dispute over the Himalayan region, which they each hold in part and both claim in full.
Indian troops have been fighting since 1989 to crush an insurrection against New Delhi's rule in the Muslim-majority region.
More than 40,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence since 1989, according to official figures. Separatists say the death toll is at least double that.