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Militants kill four soldiers in Indian Kashmir

An Indian soldier is seen standing guard in Srinagar, on May 21, 2013
An Indian soldier is seen standing guard in Srinagar, on May 21, 2013. Militants have killed four soldiers in an ambush outside the city, local officials said.

Militants killed four soldiers Friday in an ambush outside Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir, sparking a gun battle in which one rebel also died, local officials said.

The soldiers were searching for militants during a patrol when they were ambushed in the village of Hardu Buchoo, 30 kilometres (19 miles) southeast of Srinagar near the forested area of Tral, an army spokesman said.

"The militants fired at the soldiers from outside the village, when the cordon was laid," Lieutenant Colonel Ankur Vashist told AFP in Srinagar.

"Four of our soldiers were killed," Vashist said.

The rebels fled into the forest and the army called in reinforcements to encircle the area and try to capture them.

Three soldiers were killed in the ambush and a soldier injured in the ensuing gun battle later died, a police official told AFP.

"One militant involved in the attack was also killed during the encounter. We are ascertaining his identity," Abdul Gani Mir, Kashmir's police chief, said.

The ambush comes a day after government forces killed a top militant from outlawed group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Srinagar during an early morning gun battle.

Armed rebels have fought Indian security forces in Kashmir since 1989 in an effort to secure the independence of the region or its merger with Pakistan. The conflict has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead so far.

Militants killed four police in April in an ambush, while a group of militants disguised as cricketers gunned down five paramilitary police in March in an ambush in Srinagar.

Indian Kashmir has been tense since the execution in February of a local man over a deadly 2001 attack on the national parliament in New Delhi.

Mohammed Afzal Guru, a local separatist, was convicted over the attack, but he retained widespread support in Kashmir where many doubted his guilt.

Much of Kashmir has since been put under curfew repeatedly while protests and strikes have disrupted daily life.

Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan along a UN-monitored line of control, but both claim it in full and have fought two wars over its control.