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India Border Town Shaken by Battles

October 2, 1997

KARGIL, India (AP) _ Within view of Pakistani soldiers patrolling the Himalayas above, shaken residents of this Indian border town cleared debris Thursday from homes destroyed during fighting this week that killed 39 people.

Dozens of Pakistani and Indian civilians were wounded in the artillery duels Tuesday and Wednesday, one of the worst peacetime outbreaks of fighting in years in disputed Kashmir, where cross-border clashes are common.

Sixteen-year-old Nasreen Fatmi was sitting at her desk Tuesday when the first shell slammed into Kargil’s high school. A boy sitting next to her was killed instantly.

After that first shell hit, many of Kargil’s 3,000 residents fled in panic and took shelter in the homes of relatives in nearby towns. Besides the school, the shelling damaged at least 30 shops and homes, a government hospital, a mosque, and a hotel.

Gunfire is routine across the frontier, and U.N. observers report thousands of incidents every year. But the intensity of the latest fighting was unusual and unexpected.

Authorities said 18 civilians were killed and 30 wounded in Kargil on Tuesday and a young girl was killed Wednesday. On the Pakistani side, seven civilians died Tuesday, and 13 more were killed Wednesday. Thirty people were wounded over the two days, Pakistani officials said.

The fighting has dampened hopes for peace talks between Pakistan and India, revived earlier this year after a three-year hiatus. As the shelling intensified Wednesday, India’s Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral and Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif spoke on a hot-line installed in May to try to defuse the tensions.

Indian newspapers, quoting aides to Gujral, said the call was made by Gujral, who reminded Sharif of their agreement during talks in New York last week to try to restore quiet to the cease-fire line.

Each side blamed the other for starting the latest fighting.

Maj. Gen. P.K. Renjen, the Indian area commander, said Pakistan was trying to derail peace talks. ``The Pakistani military feels severely threatened. They are not keen on rapprochement with India,″ he said Thursday as he escorted reporters through the stricken town.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Tariq Altaf warned that targeting civilians would place future talks in jeopardy, and called on both countries to ``do their utmost to maintain a climate of undisturbed peace.″

In Kargil, Gulzar Munshi cleared the debris of his damaged shop Thursday and said with resignation: ``No friendship is possible between India and Pakistan.″

Nearby, Tenzing Dorji wept over the wreckage of her cosmetics shop, destroyed by a shell. ``I borrowed the money to set up my shop. I have lost everything. Where do I go from here?″ she sobbed.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they became independent of Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, a mostly Muslim region each country claims as its own. Kashmir was divided in the first war, with roughly two-thirds in Indian hands.

India has accused Pakistan of arming and training Muslim rebels in Kashmir, a charge Pakistan denies.

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