The bodies of the three suspected militants were recovered by the army after an exchange of gunfire in the Gurez sector of the Line of Control which divides the Himalayan territory between India and Pakistan, Col. H. Juneja, an Indian army spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The suspected militants opened fire when challenged by the army on the Indian side of Kashmir, Juneja told The Associated Press.

"Acting on a tip, the soldiers ambushed the suspected militants, and killed them in a gun battle," said Col. D.K. Badola, another army spokesman.

The claim could not be independently confirmed.

Further unrest

The army said it had shot and killed two more suspected militant commanders of the Hizb-e-Islami rebel group in the remote mountainous forest of the Rajouri district.

Another suspected Islamic guerrilla died in a gunbattle early on Tuesday in Handwara, a densely forested region north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state.

The operation lasted more than four hours, Juneja said.

Meanwhile, five civilians were wounded when suspected rebels hurled a grenade at a bus stand in Narbal, a village about 15 kms (10 miles) north of Srinagar, said Farooq Ahmed, a top police official in Kashmir.

No group has claimed responsibility for the grenade attack.

The price of independence

More than a dozen Muslim militant groups have been fighting Indian security forces since 1989 seeking independence for Kashmir, or its merger with neighbouring Pakistan.

At least 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the 16-year long conflict.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamic guerrillas in camps and then pushing them into the Indian portion of Kashmir to attack government forces and property, a charge which Pakistan denies.