Image: A Kashmiri woman grieves during a funeral
Dar Yasin  /  AP
A Kashmiri woman, with henna on her hands, grieves during the funeral of Indian Army soldier Shabir Ahmed Malik in Dab, some 22 miles Northeast of Srinagar, India, on Tuesday.
updated 3/24/2009 10:02:48 AM ET 2009-03-24T14:02:48

Five suspected rebels were killed Tuesday in gunbattles between government forces and insurgents in the forests of Indian Kashmir, bringing the death toll from five days of fighting to 24, the Indian army said.

Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. J.S. Brar said the fighting — which started Friday morning when a combined force of Indian army and police began flushing out militants in the Shamsbari area — has been the longest and bloodiest in the disputed Himalayan region this year.

Nearly a dozen Islamic rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its unification with neighboring Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

The difficult terrain has prevented troops from using heavy weapons against the militants, causing the fighting to drag on, Brar said.

Brar said the latest deaths take the number of rebels killed to 16, while 8 government forces have died.

There has been no independent accounts of the gunbattles — which are raging in a dense forest about 75 miles north of Indian Kashmir's main city of Srinagar — and no rebel group has claimed involvement so far.

Both India and Pakistan claim the Muslim-majority Kashmir region in its entirety and have fought two wars for control of Kashmir since they won independence from Britain in 1947.

More on Kashmir | India | Pakistan

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