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30 KILLED AS INDIANS, REBELS CLASH

At least 30 people were killed in the disputed state of Kashmir Tuesday amid renewed calls for vigilant Indian sovereignty over the region.

The leader of India's main opposition party said New Delhi must continue its war against separatist rebels fighting for independence in Kashmir."India must maintain the offensive on the Kashmir issue," Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal Behari Vaj-payee told reporters.

Both India and Pakistan claim full sovereignty over Kashmir, which was divided between the two countries at the end of British rule in 1947.

While India controls the vast majority of the region, which also borders China and Afghanistan, New Delhi is faced with a growing insurgency movement aimed at toppling Indian control of the state.

Intense fighting between Indian security forces and Muslim separatists flared up Tuesday in the embattled region.

According to a Defense Ministry spokesman, 20 rebels were among the 30 people killed.

Security forces and militant groups clashed for several hours during a firefight in central Srinagar. An unidentified foreigner was killed during the battle, the Press Trust of India said.

Pakistan has repeatedly denied New Delhi's long-held claim that Islamabad has been arming and supporting the Kashmir independence movement.

Islamabad, however, has openly called for solidarity with Muslim separatists in Kashmir.

In a recent speech, Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto called on all Islamic countries to support what she called Kashmir's freedom fighters.

During an emergency session of the Organization of Islamic Conference earlier this month, Bhutto won support from Muslim countries for the creation of a contact group between Kashmir's separatists and the United Nations.

The contact group, composed of several Islamic countries, will act as a voice for Kashmir rebels in the U.N. General Assembly.

India says the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan must be resolved only through direct bilateral talks, but Islamabad favors mediation and U.N. intervention to stop the fighting.

Although many Muslims in Kashmir favor joining Pakistan, several militant groups represented by the umbrella All Party Hurriyat Conference support an independent homeland in Kashmir.