The encounter occurred as the troops hunted for the killers of 12 soldiers who died in the area two weeks ago, press reports said on Saturday.

  

The operation was carried out on Thursday in the mountainous Bejaia district, where units of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) are known to be based, the reports said.

  

At least 12 members of the Algerian security forces were killed in early June in the region when suspected anti-government fighters attacked their convoy, residents said.

 

Death toll

  

The GSPC has become the best organised of the movements waging a low-level civil war against Algeria's secular authorities. The other is the Armed Islamic Group (GIA).

  

Since the beginning of June, 57 people have been killed in violence involving these movements, according to an official toll and supplementary press reports.

  

However, the violence has been declining since the latter half of last year. The insurgency, which began in 1992, reached a peak in the mid-1990s, and has claimed a total of some 150,000 lives.