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Kashmir tension down, says envoy

Indian and Pakistani border guards eye-off each other at the joint frontier post of Wagah
Indian and Pakistani border guards eye-off each other at the joint frontier post of Wagah  


NEW DELHI, India -- Top U.S. envoy Richard Armitage says tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan have eased a little, but says it is too soon to rule out the threat of a war over Kashmir.

"Tensions are a little bit down," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the Indian capital Friday.

Armitage had held talks with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on Thursday on the first stop of his mission to try to defuse the potential conflict on the subcontinent. Musharraf assured him Pakistan would not start a war.

In New Delhi, Armitage expressed cautious optimism.

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"I feel very good about the discussions in India," he said. "If tensions are high, there is always a risk of war. Until that situation is changed, there will be the risk."

He added: "(The Indians) do want terrorism to stop and in this regard, we share the view with the government of India.

"I was able to expose the senior leadership of India to the tone, the tenor and full content of my discussion in Islamabad including the commitment of President Pervez Musharraf to the United States to stop cross-Line of Control infiltration."

Armitage's visit is the latest in a concerted international effort, by countries including Russia, China and the United Kingdom, to defuse tensions in the region.

The deputy secretary of state said: "It is certainly the desire and hope of the international community and the government of the United States that tensions do lessen because we want a future for India and Pakistan that's worthy of a very fine people."

His mission will be followed up by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld next week who is expected to spell out bluntly to both sides the risks entailed of a war. (Full story)

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone for 20 minutes on Thursday on subjects that included developments on the subcontinent.

In a written statement, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said the two presidents "agreed to continue mutual efforts to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan."

On Wednesday Bush telephoned Musharraf and Vajpayee, "urging them to take steps that will ease tensions ... and reduce the risk of war" a spokesman said.

Japan, meanwhile, says it will charter a commercial plane soon to help to evacuate Japanese nationals from India. The aircraft would be sent to India as early as Monday because commercial flights from India were fully booked. (Full story)

Both the United States and Britain upped travel advisories Thursday, urging their citizens to leave both India and Pakistan at the earliest opportunity. Previous warnings had urged nationals to "consider leaving." (Full story)

Trading blame

Between them India and Pakistan have massed about a million troops along their border and the Kashmiri Line of Control, which divides the disputed region between them.

India accuses Pakistan of funding, arming and training Islamic militant groups it blames for a series of attacks in Indian administered Kashmir and a deadly attack on the Indian parliament last December.

Pakistan has denied the Indian charges saying it only gives moral support to groups waging what it calls a "liberation struggle" for the people of Kashmir.(A tense few weeks)

On Wednesday Vajpayee raised the possibility of joint patrols by Indian and Pakistani forces along the Line of Control as way of preventing militant incursions into Indian territory.

The proposal was rebuffed by Pakistani officials who described the suggestion as "nothing new" and "unlikely to work," given the tense state of relations.

Pakistan maintains there is no infiltration across the Line of Control and has called for independent observers, such as United Nations monitors, to be allowed to verify this.

Vajpayee later elaborated on his comments, saying there were "many proposals for verification, of which joint patrolling is one."

Stand-off

Both the Indian and Pakistani leaders were in Kazakhstan earlier this week for a regional security summit.

But despite both men being in the same room -- often sitting at the same table even -- diplomatic efforts headed by China and Russia to get them talking came to nothing.

The tense stand-off has raised international fears of a possible nuclear war developing from the dispute over the Himalayan region, which already has sparked two wars between Pakistan and India. (Kashmir history)

An Indian soldier warily watches the Line of Control
An Indian soldier warily watches the Line of Control  

In Kashmir itself, exchanges of fire continued Thursday with reports of heavy shelling across the Line or Control near Gurez about 100 kilometers north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. (Maps and military)

Three civilians were killed and two others injured by Pakistani forces in Kashmir Friday after cross-border shelling continued across the Line of Control, Indian officials said.

The heavy shelling began in the Indian town of Poonch about 8 a.m. and lasted for nearly two hours, the officials added.

More shelling was reported in Ramgarh, about 40 kilometers south of the Indian city of Jammu.

In a separate incident Pakistani military sources said four children, three girls and a boy, were killed Friday in fighting along the Line of Control.

The deaths were reported in the towns of Kotli and Hajira on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control. They also reported six people were injured, including four women.

-- CNN Correspondents Tom Mintier in Islamabad, Martin Savidge in Srinagar and Barbara Starr in Brussels contributed to this report



 
 
 
 






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