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Germany defends action amid unease

Vajpayee and Schroeder
Schroeder, right, urged Vajpayee to resume talks with Pakistan  

NEW DELHI, India -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said air strikes on Afghanistan are necessary despite mounting unease over civilian casualties.

"I consider the military action is a necessary step ... it is the right approach," he told a news conference in the Indian capital of New Delhi during a trip through South Asia to bolster support for the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Meanwhile, U.S. jets pressed their attacks Monday on Taliban frontline targets north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, while heavy bombing returned to the southern city of Kandahar after a relatively quiet Sunday night.

No new airstrikes were reported in Kabul, which on Sunday endured the heaviest bombing of the four-week-old U.S.-led campaign against terrorist targets.

The Taliban said nine people were killed in the strikes, but their claim could not be confirmed independently.

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Schroeder, on a three-day visit to India after visiting neighbouring Pakistan, said the political and humanitarian aspects of the conflict were as important as the military campaign.

He said television images of civilian deaths were bound to cause distress.

"While watching these things ... people around the world do get a strong feeling of empathy. A society does not normally respond enthusiastically to warring actions wherever they be."

Schroeder also called on Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf, to resume talks over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Schroeder said Germany believed New Delhi and Islamabad should settle their differences "through bilateral negotiations."

India and Pakistan, whose summit in the Indian town of Agra in July ended in stalemate over Kashmir, have supported the coalition against terrorism following last month's attacks on the U.S.

However, there have been fears that renewed strains between the two countries neighbours could undermine the U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic militants in neighbouring Afghanistan. In the past month, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have visited the subcontinent, urging India and Pakistan to put their differences on hold while the assault on Afghanistan is under way.

"Germany is in favour of -- indeed wishes -- that the process of the Agra is resumed again and that it is continued," Schroeder, flanked by Vajpayee, told reporters at the presidential palace.

Vajpayee made no comment on Schroeder's call.

Islamabad denies direct involvement in the nearly 12-year-old rebellion in Muslim-majority Kashmir and says it only gives moral support to the Kashmiri people in what it calls their struggle for self-determination.

The German leader, who heads next for China, was due to hold talks with Vajpayee and President K. R. Narayanan that would focus on the situation in Afghanistan and look for ways to combat terrorism, officials said.


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