KASHMIR: Kashmiri Muslims look inside a damaged house after a gunfight between militants and Indian government forces in Chattergam village of central Kashmir’s Budgam district yesterday. —AFP

SRINAGAR: Government forces in Indian-administered Kashmir killed a top commander of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group yesterday during a fierce firefight, police said, triggering clashes with protestors. LeT, the proscribed group India blames for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai, is one of the several groups fighting Indian soldiers for decades, seeking independence for Kashmir or a merger with Pakistan.

Pakistani national Naveed Jatt, the man killed yesterday, had dramatically escaped in February from a hospital in Srinagar where he was brought from jail for a check-up two years after his arrest. Two police officers accompanying Jatt-a renowned escape artist only five feet (1.52 metres) tall-were killed in a shootout inside the hospital before he was whisked away on a waiting motorbike. Police also say that Jatt was part of the group of assailants who killed prominent journalist Shujaat Bukhari in a daring attack inside Srinagar's high security press area in June.

Jatt and another militant were killed after they were trapped by soldiers, paramilitary forces and a police counterinsurgency unit surrounding the village of Chattergam in the central Kashmir valley. "It's a success, a relief. Naveed Jatt is one among the two militants killed," top police officer, Munir Ahmad Khan told AFP. "Jatt murdered two of our colleagues when he escaped (in February)," Khan said. Three soldiers were wounded in the gun battle, another police officer said, adding several protestors who hit the streets near the site of firefight were also injured in police action.

Violence in Kashmir has left tens of thousands of people dead. This year has been the bloodiest in nearly a decade with at least 530 killed so far, including 145 civilians and nearly 400 combatants. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the partition of the subcontinent following independence from Britain in 1947. Both claim the former Himalayan kingdom in its entirety. India maintains some 500,000 soldiers in the part of the territory it controls, and regularly accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebels for attacks on Indian forces. Islamabad denies this, saying it only provides diplomatic support to a Kashmiri struggle for self-determination._ AFP