WANDHAMA, India (AP) _ Suspected Muslim separatists dragged Hindu villagers from their homes and slaughtered 23 in the troubled northern state of Kashmir, police said today.

The attackers entered Wandhama village 10 miles north of Srinagar late Sunday, police in Srinagar said. They sprayed victims with bullets after pulling them from their homes. Among the dead were seven members of one family, including a mother and two children.

Vinod Kumar Kaul, 12, said five armed men came to his family's door and asked for tea, and opened fire when they were allowed in. Kaul's father, mother and two siblings were killed.

``When we looked out of the windows we saw the houses burning,'' said 18-year-old Naseem, who uses one name only. He said he awoke to the sound of rapid gunfire and screams of terror.

Police raised the death toll from 17 to 23 after finding six more bodies in a torched home. The attackers also burned a Hindu temple.

Authorities said they suspected the attackers were Afghan members of one of several Kashmiri insurgent groups. None of the dozen rebel groups have claimed responsibility and police have not said which one they suspect.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Muslim militants fighting an insurgency in Kashmir that has killed more than 15,000 people since 1989. Pakistan denies the charge, saying it lends only moral support.

Militants in Kashmir, India's only predominately Muslim state, want independence or a union with Muslim Pakistan.

The massacre came on the eve of Republic Day, the 48th anniversary of the day a newly independent India signed its Constitution. Militants often choose such holidays for attacks to underline their contempt for the government.

A rocket apparently fired by Muslim separatists exploded in the air and sparked confusion that delayed a Republic Day parade in Srinagar this morning. No one was injured.

Shops were closed and streets empty in Srinagar, the state's summer capital, in response to a strike call by separatists. Such protests have become an annual ritual in Kashmir on Republic Day.