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70 Indian Army Vehicles Catch Fire

January 11, 2002

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NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ An Indian army convoy was engulfed by fire Friday after explosions destroyed dozens of trucks carrying ammunition near the border with Pakistan, Indian news reports said. Witnesses said two civilians were killed by exploding shells.

The convoy of nearly 240 ammunition trucks was moving from northern Punjab state toward the border when electric sparks triggered a blast on one truck close to Bikaner, 200 miles northwest of Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan state, the Press Trust of India reported.

The explosions spread, destroying up to 70 trucks. The army managed to save the other 170, the agency said, quoting army officers.

``Hundreds of panicked residents fled the area as shells began exploding,″ resident Gajendra Singh Negi said by telephone.

Defense Minister George Fernandes said he had ordered a probe into the explosions. There was no immediate word on military casualties.

India and Pakistan have mobilized hundreds of thousands of troops on their border after a standoff caused by a Dec. 13 suicide attack on India’s Parliament. India blamed the attack on Pakistan-based Islamic militant groups and demanded an end to Islamabad’s support to rebels fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India since 1989.

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