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Indian PM: Troops Should Prepare for Battle - 2002-05-22

India's prime minister has called on troops in Indian-administered Kashmir to prepare for a decisive battle amid heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. Hundreds of people have attended the funeral procession of an assassinated moderate Kashmiri separatist leader.

On the second day of his visit to the disputed Kashmir region, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee told Indian soldiers to be ready for sacrifice and to work for victory. He was addressing hundreds of troops at Kupwara town close to India's disputed border with Pakistan.

He asked soldiers to be ready for a decisive battle after accusing Pakistan of waging a proxy war. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of training and arming Islamic militants fighting in Kashmir.

Islamabad denies the charge.

After addressing the troops, Mr. Vajpayee visited the Kashmiri summer capital, Srinagar, to assess the political mood in the Kashmir valley, where a separatist insurgency has raged for the past 12-years.

As Mr. Vajpayee met pro-Indian Kashmiri leaders, an emotional crowd in Srinagar bade farewell to Abdul Ghani Lone, the moderate Kashmiri separatist leader who was gunned down Tuesday.

Mourners chanted slogans demanding freedom as they walked down the eight-kilometer route from Mr. Lone's home to the cemetery.

The funeral was held amid tight security. Schools, businesses and shops shutdown in Srinagar in response to a strike called leader by the Huriyat Conference - Kashmir's main political alliance to which Mr. Lone belonged. The strike was called to protest the Indian prime minister's visit to the region, and the killing of the Kashmiri leader.

Huriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq described Mr. Lone's killing as a setback to the Huriyat Conference.

"It is the doing of those people who want to create panic among the ranks of the Huriyat," Mr. Farooq said.

The Indian government wants to involve Kashmiri political leaders in state elections later in the year. The Huriyat Conference has called for a boycott of the elections, but New Delhi had hoped to persuade Mr. Lone to take part in the elections. He had advocated dialogue with India to return peace to the region, a position that had angered hardliners.

In New Delhi, foreign ministry spokesperson, Nirupama Rao, said Pakistan's continued sponsorship of terrorism was responsible for the heightened tensions between India and Pakistan. "We have seen how a large number of the terrorist cadres who were arrested have been released. Terrorist leaders reportedly under 'arrest' continue to function and direct their cadres, and training camps have been relocated, they have been reopened," she said.

Meanwhile, heavy shelling continued between Indian and Pakistani troops along the Kashmir border. There have been reports of both civilian and troop casualties on both sides since the cross border fighting began six days ago.