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Politic-Economic-Society-Tech

Indo-Pakistani fight intensifies
 

Thousands of villagers fled the India-Pakistan border region Saturday as firing between the two nuclear-armed neighbours escalated, with heavy weaponry being used in all-night shooting across the frontier.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee met on Saturday with his top Cabinet ministers, military and intelligence chiefs, in crucial talks to decide India's response to a recent militant attack in Kashmir, the source of two of the three wars between India and Pakistan.

Before the meeting, the military gave Vajpayee an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses and what it believes Pakistan's military situation is, said an officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

During an emotional, day-long Parliament debate on Friday, Vajpayee vowed to respond to the attack on Tuesday on an army base in which 34 people, most of them the wives and children of soldiers, were killed.

As the rhetoric soared in the legislature in New Delhi on Friday, the firing intensified on the border and increased through night, with both sides using mortars and recoilless guns.

Also on Friday, a bomb left on a motor scooter exploded in a busy shopping area in Srinagar, summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, killing two people and injuring 17, police said.

'It is war'

"It's a war," said Bishamber Dass, one of 10 000 people who used the light of exploding shells to flee their homes on Friday night. "The boom of the guns could be heard even at the distance of 5km from the border," said Dass, sheltering in a makeshift migrant camp on Saturday.

The carcasses of animals lay in the summer heat in abandoned villages, their stench mixing with the smell of used ammunition.

Firing was particularly heavy in the Hiranagar and Samba areas, where the Indian troops had advanced into Pakistani territory during their 1965 and 1971 wars.

Military officials in the border region said four soldiers had been wounded, while three civilians had been killed and seven wounded in the most intense cross-border firing this year.

Pakistan's government-run television reported four civilians were killed and 40 wounded by the Indian shelling.

Reports from local military officers, villagers and journalists on the border conflicted with statements made in New Delhi by the Defence Ministry and the army.

"So far there is no major firing," Defence Ministry spokesperson PK Bandopadhyay said on Saturday.

"There is intermittent firing with infantry weapons. But there is no escalation," said Indian Army spokesperson Colonel Shruti Kant.

Troops massed at border

Indian and Pakistani soldiers, rivals since a bloody partition divided the subcontinent upon its independence from Britain in 1947, routinely fire at each other across the frontier.

Hundreds of thousands of troops, along with tanks and heavy guns, have been massed at the border since December, however, after a militant attack on India's Parliament that left 14 people dead, including the five attackers.

Prime Minister Vajpayee had written to US President George W Bush at the time, saying India's patience was wearing out, and there have been fears that another major militant attack might provoke a cross-frontier strike by Indian forces.

The government says the attacks were carried out by Islamic groups based in Pakistan and backed by Pakistan's intelligence agency.

Pakistan denies the allegations, but says it supports the goals of the militants fighting in India's portion of divided Kashmir. Since 1989 they have fought for the region's independence from India or merger with Pakistan in an insurgency that has killed more than 60 000 people, human rights group and Jammu-Kashmir officials say.

A US official said in Washington on Friday that Richard Armitage, the State Department's No 2 official, may travel to India and Pakistan this month to try to ease the tension.

Christina Rocca, the US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, visited the region during the past week, arriving a few hours after the attack on the army base. Secretary of State Colin Powell has spoken to leaders of both countries by telephone in recent days.
 

source: news24.com, 18.05.2002


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