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Pakistan Releases Jailed Indian Fishermen, Illegal Immigrants - 2003-05-18


Pakistan has released 20 Indian prisoners as a goodwill gesture. The prisoners were handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah border, near the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. They included 14 fishermen who were detained for illegally crossing into Pakistan's territorial waters. The six others were jailed for immigration offenses.

Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali ordered the prisoners released early this month, when he unveiled a set of measures to pave the way for renewed peace talks between India and Pakistan.

The South Asian rivals have announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations and resumption of transport links.

Relations were severely strained after an attack on India's parliament building in December 2001. New Delhi blamed Pakistan for organizing the assault, which triggered a major military build-up, bringing Pakistan and India to the brink of a fourth war.

The latest peace gestures from India and Pakistan began last month, when Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said he wanted friendly relations with Pakistan.

The Indian leader has again dismissed suggestions that he is seeking friendship with Pakistan because of pressure from the United States and other Western countries. Mr. Vajpayee also reiterated his demand that Pakistan end supporting, what he called, cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

The five-decade dispute over Kashmir remains the major source of tensions in the region. India alleges that Pakistan is supporting an armed insurgency in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir. Pakistan denies the charge and maintains that it only provides moral and diplomatic support to the "freedom struggle" in mostly Muslim Kashmir.

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