2 Suspected Islamic Militants Killed in Gunbattle

Security forces killed two suspected Islamic militants in a gunbattle Tuesday in Indian-controlled Kashmir, and a rebel grenade attack injured 12 civilians and a soldier in the insurgency-wracked region, police said.

The commander of Kashmir's largest rebel group, Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, meanwhile made a conditional offer for peace talks with India.

There was no immediate response from New Delhi.

Police officer Vijay Kumar said two militants were killed in a firefight with the army and police in the densely forested Machhil sector, close to the Line of Control that divides India's and Pakistan's portions of the Himalayan region.

Also Tuesday, suspected militants lobbed a grenade at a jeep carrying paramilitary soldiers in the town of Handwara, about 45 miles north of Srinagar, said Superintendent of Police Haseeb Magloo.

The grenade narrowly missed the vehicle but wounded a soldier and 12 civilian bystanders, four critically, he said.

None of the more than a dozen Islamic militant groups fighting Indian rule in Kashmir claimed responsibility for the attack. The insurgents have been fighting since 1989 to win Kashmir's independence or see India's two-thirds of the predominantly Muslim Himalayan region merged with Pakistan's one-third.

Separately, the Kashmir Press Service cited Gazi-Misabudin — described as Hezb-ul Mujahedeen's Kashmir operations commander — saying the militants would consider entering peace talks with the Indian government, but only if certain conditions are met.

"Dialogue can be held with India, provided India accepts Kashmir as a dispute; India, Pakistan and Kashmiris should share a common negotiating table ... India should call off all the operations in Kashmir, Kashmiri prisoners languishing in various prisons be released and India should send back its troops to barracks," he was quoted as saying.

"Dialogue should not be held for the sake of dialogue and it needs to be meaningful," he was quoted as saying.

More than 68,000 people have died since the start of the insurgency.