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Pakistan Tacitly Admits Activity

June 27, 1999

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan appeared to admit for the first time today that it had a hand in troops battling Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir region, but it rebuffed U.S. calls to withdraw its forces.

Since hostilities began in early May, India has contended Pakistan had troops among hundreds of fighters who seized mountain positions in the Kargil region of Indian-held part of the divided Kashmir.

Until today, Pakistan denied any role with the fighters, saying they were Kashmiri Muslims battling for independence from India.

Its tacit admission came amid U.S. efforts to persuade Pakistan to pull the fighters out of the region to avert what Washington fears could turn into a wider conflict between the South Asian rivals.

New Delhi claims Islamabad backed the incursion to change the 1972 cease-fire line dividing the Himalayan region, which has been at the center of two previous wars between the two new nuclear powers.

Pakistani Army chief Parvez Musharraf was asked by journalists in the port city of Karachi today if Pakistan would withdraw its forces from the Kargil area of Kashmir.

He replied: ``It is too early to say (but) it’s a government decision. It is the prime minister’s decision. We will not withdraw unilaterally.″

Musharraf did not specify precisely where Pakistani troops were located in Kargil or what role they had in the fighting.

Kargil, where the fighting is taking place, lies entirely on the Indian side of the cease-fire line. Pakistan had previously said only that it had brought its troops forward onto peaks facing Kargil on its side of the line.

Earlier this week, U.S. Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni brought a message from President Clinton to Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, urging him to withdraw forces. The European Union has made similar calls.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gibson Lanpher went to India on Saturday to brief officials on the results of Zinni’s meetings in Islamabad.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, meanwhile, said his military will later decided whether to send troops across the cease-fire line into Pakistani-held Kashmir.

Vajpayee has previously said India had no intention of taking the fighting across the line. But former generals have insisted that could be necessary to cut off supply lines to the fighters.

``Let the time come, then we will decide,″ he said, quoted by the Press Trust of India. ``Our constraint should not be construed as a sign of weakness.″

Foreign Office spokesman Raminder Jassal denied a newspaper report that India was considering a proposal from Pakistan to provide an ``exit corridor″ to the fighters to retreat into Pakistani territory.

While India has demanded the forces withdraw, Pakistan has said it wants negotiations between the two sides not only on the fighting but on the broader issue of Kashmir’s fate. Both countries claim the territory in its entirety.

On the battlefield, the Press Trust of India reported at least 20 fighters were killed when raids by Indian jets smashed their bunkers on and around Tiger Hill, the last peak held by the fighters over a strategic highway.

In Islamabad, an army statement said an Indian offensive against Pakistan army positions Friday had been repulsed, killing 12 Indian soldiers. There was no immediate reaction from the Indian side.

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