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India, Pakistan Clash in Kashmir

October 13, 1998

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ India and Pakistan traded gunfire across their disputed Kashmir border in a clash that threatened Tuesday to further poison the tense political atmosphere before the first peace talks between the two nations in more than a year.

India claimed Pakistani soldiers started shelling the border Monday evening, Press Trust of India reported.

India retaliated, destroying several Pakistani detachments and killing or injuring eight Pakistani soldiers patrolling on horseback, Brig. Gen. Arun Chopra said by telephone from Srinagar, capital of the troubled northern Jammu-Kashmir province.

The Pakistani government did not immediately comment on the border incident, which took place just days before Thursday’s talks are scheduled to begin.

Tensions were already heightened when India announced it would conduct two weeks of military maneuvers in the Thar desert bordering Pakistan.

Pakistan was informed of the exercise planned for the end of October, Indian defense ministry spokesman Swagat Ghosh said Tuesday.

In Islamabad, Foreign Ministry spokesman Tariq Altaf countered Pakistan is ``extremely disturbed, particularly at the size and timing of the exercise.″

The Indian military maneuvers will be the biggest since 1987, when the two countries came to the brink of a fourth confrontation. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from their colonial British rulers in 1947.

Two of those wars were fought over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir. India controls two-thirds of Kashmir, which is the only Muslim majority state in the predominantly Hindu country.

International pressure mounted on the two neighbors to talk after May nuclear tests that led to worldwide condemnation and economic sanctions.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Atal Bihari Vajpayee agreed late last month to resume talks. Talks broke down last year when Pakistan insisted that Kashmir should be a priority issue.

The talks, which will include a discussion on Kashmir, continue until Sunday, and then resume next month in New Delhi with discussions on drug trafficking, terrorism and cultural ties.

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