Indian Kashmir gun battle kills 5: Police

Zia, a school teacher who was on polling duty, was killed by suspected rebels at the end of voting on April 24.

SRINAGAR, India - Two soldiers and three suspected rebels died in a gunbattle in restive Indian Kashmir, police said Saturday, soon after the killing of a poll official in India's marathon general elections.

Violence has spiked in the disputed Himalayan region since the start of the staggered parliamentary polls earlier this month as rebels have sought to discourage locals from turning out at the ballot box, police say.

The latest violence erupted Friday when security forces laid siege to Manloo village, 55 kilometres (34 miles) south of Kashmir's main city Srinagar, after militants opened fire on them.

"All the three militants and two soldiers including an officer died in the operation," a senior police officer told AFP, asking not to be identified.

Two of the suspected rebels died late Friday and the third was killed Saturday when another militant holed up in a house began shooting at government forces as they cleared debris to retrieve the bodies.

The new fighting flared Thursday when suspected rebels ambushed a government vehicle carrying poll staff home following the end of voting in Anantnag constituency in southern Kashmir valley, where the rebel separatist movement is centred.

Anantnag took part in phased polls in the elections on Thursday amid heavy security and threats posted outside mosques by suspected rebels warning people to stay away from the polls or face "punishment".

Voter turnout was just 28 per cent of the 1.3 million electorate in Anantnag following attacks on village leaders that police said was aimed at discouraging election participation.

A dozen rebel groups have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence or merger of the territory with Pakistan which controls a portion of the disputed Himalayan region.

Kashmir was divided between India and Pakistan after the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947 and is claimed by both in full.

The fighting has left tens of thousands of people, mostly civilians, dead.

Kashmir sends six members to the 543-member Indian parliament.

Another constituency in the embattled region is slated to vote April 30 in the elections whose results will be known in mid May.