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Ambush in India Kills 20 Soldiers

August 20, 2002

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GAUHATI, India (AP) _ Suspected separatist rebels ambushed a group of Indian troops Tuesday, killing at least 20 and wounding five in the remote northeastern state of Tripura, police said.

The soldiers were traveling by road when they were attacked by an unknown number of rebels near Amarendra Nagar, 60 miles southeast of Agartala, the state capital, a senior police official said. The rebels used grenades and automatic weapons, said D. Gautam, superintendent of police.

He said the soldiers were accompanying two sick soldiers to a nearby town. The rebels stole the soldiers’ weapons and fled into the mountains, he said.

No rebel group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Police blamed the National Liberation Front of Tripura, which has been fighting for an independent tribal homeland. Gautam said the locale of the attack ``is a known stronghold of the NLFT.″

The NLFT operates from bases in neighboring Bangladesh, staging hit-and-run guerrilla strikes on soldiers in Tripura.

More than a dozen guerrilla groups are fighting separatist wars in India’s seven northeastern states. The groups complain of neglect by the federal government and threats to their indigenous cultures.

More than 25,000 people have been killed in the fighting in India’s northeast since 1948.

Soldiers also fought in the part of disputed Kashmir that India controls. The province is divided between India and Pakistan and Indian officials say the suspected militants involved in the overnight clashes slipped across the border from the Pakistani part.

Twelve suspected Islamic militants were killed in the three separate battles in Kashmir, India’s only majority Muslim region. Islamic separatists have been fighting Indian security forces for more than a decade.

The army said there were no Indian casualties in the fighting. There was no independent confirmation of the casualty figures.

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