Indian troops shot and killed two fighters in the southern Kashmir district of Doda in an overnight clash, police said.

One of them was identified as Muhammad Rafiq, district commander of the group Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of two outfits blamed by New Delhi for a deadly attack on parliament in late 2001 that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

Last week, Indian troops and police claimed that they killed five commanders, including the operations chief of the region's dominant separatist group, Hizb al-Mujahidin.
 
Indian troops have increased their operations against separatist fighters in Kashmir over the past fortnight.

Police also claimed that a soldier died and another was injured in a shootout on Monday between separatists and security forces in Kupwara district, north of Srinagar.
 
Another fighter had been killed in a second clash near southern Shopian town.

Among the other dead, two Muslim civilians were killed overnight and another injured in an exchange of fire between fighters and soldiers in the districts of Kupwara and Poonch.

First-ever talks

Kashmiri separatists opposed to Indian rule in the region will be holding the first-ever high-level talks with New Delhi on Thursday.

An anti-Indian revolt has been
raging since 1989 in the territory

A moderate Kashmiri separatist said on Monday he would suggest to the Indian government during the talks that separatists be allowed to visit Pakistan to boost the peace process.

"The visit to Pakistan can push forward the peace process by leaps and bounds," said Maulana Abbas Ansari, who heads the moderate faction of Kashmir's main separatist alliance, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

"In Pakistan and its controlled Kashmir we can meet mujahidin leaders and try to persuade them to call for a ceasefire," he told AFP, referring to those fighting against Indian rule in Kashmir.

A five-member Hurriyat team led by Ansari will be holding first-ever high-level talks with Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani on Thursday in New Delhi.

India and Pakistan are also set to resume their stalled dialogue, including on Kashmir, next week under an agreement they reached early this month in Islamabad during a South Asian summit.

Death penalty stayed
 
On Monday, India's Supreme Court stayed the death penalties handed to two Kashmiri Muslims for their role in an attack on the parliament.
 

Thousands have died in the
conflict over Kashmir

The court set aside the penalty ordered by the Delhi High Court and a lower trial court to Mohammed Afzal and Shaukat Hussain Guru, who were convicted of conspiring with five attackers who tried to storm the parliament in December 2001, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
 
In October last year, the Delhi High court upheld the death penalty on the two Kashmiri men pronounced by the lower trial court in December 2002. But it freed two others - S.A.R. Geelani, a Delhi University lecturer in Arabic and Afsan Guru, wife of one of the
convicts.

Five armed men stormed parliament on 13 December 2001, killing eight police officers and a gardener before they were shot dead by security forces. A journalist wounded in the attack died months later of his wounds.