India Denies Cease-Fire Discussions
KARGIL, India (AP) _ India denied having any discussions with Pakistan about a cease-fire in Kashmir on Monday and its army pushed ahead to a new Himalayan battleground after claiming to have captured key peaks in the disputed region.
The Indian army began diverting troops and weapons eastward into Batalik, the last and most difficult of the three major battlegrounds in Kashmir, where officers say up to 300 Islamic fighters are entrenched on steep, jagged ridges.
India says Pakistani soldiers are directing Islamic militants who want to separate Muslim-majority Kashmir from India.
Pakistan acknowledges its forces are trading nearly constant artillery shelling with the Indians across the 1972 cease-fire line that divides Kashmir between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Islamabad, however, says its troops have not crossed the border.
After a meeting in Washington on Sunday between President Clinton and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, India expressed hope that the Islamic fighters would pull back.
``Pakistan understands that where it is today militarily and internationally is in a blind ally,″ Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said Monday in an appearance on CNN. ``There is only one way to rectify it: Turn back from what they have done.″
India maintains its military action to push the Islamic fighters back across the so-called Line of Control has made steady progress.
The fighting ``will continue with full force until the intruders are evicted from our side of the Line of Control,″ Foreign Ministry spokesman Raminder Singh Jassal said at a news conference in New Delhi. He said India was not discussing any cease-fire and ``there is no evidence on the ground that Pakistan is taking the logical step of″ pulling back forces.
The Indian military said it captured 16,500-foot Tiger Hill Sunday and took another 16,000-foot-high peak Sunday night. That gave the military almost full control of the vantage points over the strategic national highway that runs through Kashmir, said military spokesman Col. Bikram Singh.
However, he said, fighting continued Monday on ridges below the summit of Tiger Hill.
A Pakistani army spokesman, Brig. Rashid Quereshi, disputed Indian claims of recent victories. He said Pakistani soldiers on their own side of the border still have a clear view of Tiger Hill and the highway and can target convoys trying to supply northern areas of India.
Quereshi said Monday that Indian artillery assaults across the border had increased considerably in the past day, killing five civilians and wounding 19 others.
At least 30,000 Pakistani civilians have fled border villages for safer areas, according to the Red Cross. The mass exodus began in late May after Indian troops began the military crackdown to dislodge the Islamic fighters.
India says 486 Pakistani soldiers and 150 Islamic guerrillas have been killed in the fighting, while 265 Indian soldiers have died, 451 were wounded and 22 are missing. But Pakistan and the guerrillas have not provided recent casualty figures, and India’s figures could not be independently confirmed.
Sharif and Clinton issued a statement Sunday pledging to take ``concrete steps″ to restore the cease-fire line. The specific steps Pakistan would take were not spelled out.
Clinton told India’s prime minister about the talks in two telephone calls, Jassal said. National security adviser Sandy Berger and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott also briefed the Indian foreign minister and Brajesh Misra, India’s national security adviser.
In Pakistan, a militant Muslim group whose members are fighting in Kashmir warned the Pakistani prime minister not to make a deal with India.
``The masses will not tolerate such a government that succumbs to western pressure,″ said Fazl-ur Rehman Khalil, chief of the Harkat-ul Mujahedeen group.
Meanwhile, India accused Pakistan of abducting embassy employee Yog Raj Vij from his car in Islamabad on Monday. Pakistan said it is investigating the complaint.