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Suspected Islamic Militants Kill 2

May 20, 2002

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JAMMU, India (AP) _ Suspected Islamic militants carried out a series of attacks in Kashmir on Monday, killing at least two Indian soldiers as Indian and Pakistani forces pounded each other’s positions with small arms and artillery fire in the troubled region.

Gunmen killed a soldier guarding an army camp in Manjakot town 110 miles north of Jammu in India-held Kashmir, police spokesman Subhash Raina said. He said two soldiers were wounded. Suspected rebels also blew up an army vehicle in nearby Raamsoo, wounding two soldiers, and ambushed a paramilitary patrol in Kishtwar to the east, killing one and wounding two, Raina said.

The attacks further strained India’s deteriorating relations with Pakistan.

``We have had pain inflicted on us for far (too) long,″ Indian foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao told reporters in New Delhi. ``The prime thrust of any diplomatic offensive would be sensitizing the world community to India’s very legitimate concerns about cross-border terrorism.″

The United States and other countries have expressed concern that a new war could break out between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region that was the cause of two of the three wars the rivals have fought since they gained independence from Britain in 1947.

India ordered the expulsion of Pakistan’s ambassador Saturday to protest an attack by suspected Islamic militants last week that killed 34 people at an army base, mostly soldiers’ wives and children. Pakistan denies India’s charge that it arms and trains Islamic militants fighting for the independence of Indian-ruled Kashmir, and says it can’t stop cross-border attacks by the militants.

Pakistan asked the international community Monday to press India to open a dialogue.

``We hope the international community will increase further its efforts . . . to convince India to see reason and come to the negotiating table for discussions and dialogue with Pakistan,″ said Foreign Office spokesman Aziz Ahmad Khan.

For the fourth straight day on Monday, India and Pakistan exchanged fire across the frontier dividing Kashmir. The Pakistani military said three civilians were killed.

``The Indian army is deliberately targeting our civilians and Pakistan army is retaliating wherever it is required,″ Pakistani army spokesman Saulat Raza, told The Associated Press.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that six Pakistani soldiers were killed by Indian shells, but Saulat Raza denied the report. He said heavy shelling forced Pakistan’s army to evacuate villages along the border.

Thousands of villagers on both sides fled their homes and have been living in government shelters since the two armies began exchanging heavy fire last Friday.

India and Pakistan routinely fire at each other across the frontier, but Indian analysts say the current crisis is the worst since an 11-week border conflict in Kashmir in 1999, which nearly escalated into war.

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was meeting with communist leaders Monday to seek their support for actions against Pakistan. After meeting with Vajpayee, Communist Party leader A.B. Bardhan said the government should apply diplomatic and economic pressures on Pakistan but that war was not the answer.

Many lawmakers in the ruling coalition and the opposition have called for an attack on Pakistan, blaming its government for the violence in Kashmir, and Vajpayee has been meeting opposition parties to discuss the military situation ahead of his planned visit to the Kashmir region this week.

Update hourly