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2 Dead in India-Pakistan Border Clash - 2001-12-23

India says two paramilitary soldiers have been killed and three others injured in a border clash between Indian and Pakistani troops. The armies of the two nations have been on high alert since tensions escalated following a suicide attack on India's parliament on December 13.

Defense officials in India say the border guards were attacked by Pakistani troops while on a routine patrol about 40 kilometers southwest of Kashmir's winter capital Jammu.

A spokesman of the Border Security Force says Indian troops opened fire in retaliation.

There are also reports of a heavy exchange of fire and intense shelling along several points at the Line of Control, that divides Kashmir between the two countries. Officials in India say Indian forces destroyed two Pakistani bunkers. News reports in Pakistan quote Pakistani officials as saying India was shelling indiscriminately.

Sporadic cross border firing has taken place since both countries moved troops closer to their common border in recent days.

Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said Sunday that Pakistan has been unable to understand the gravity of the situation. His comment came after India's cabinet committee on security met to discuss India's response to the parliament attack. Indian officials say a decision has been deferred until after Christmas.

Meanwhile, Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told the Press Trust of India that he does not expect an outbreak of war, although the government has mobilized forces in the states of Rajasthan and Punjab in response to similar moves by Pakistan. He says Pakistan strike forces have been moved to the border, but have not taken up "battle position."

Islamabad has expressed concern over what it calls massive Indian troop movements along the border.

Mr. Fernandes said that he hopes "better sense will prevail" and Pakistan will meet Indian demands for taking action against two Kashmiri guerrilla groups which allegedly attacked India's parliament. He says he would like to remain optimistic on this count "until definitely negative signals come."

Pakistan has asked India for evidence against groups blamed for the attack on Parliament.

Tension has been building since the attack, with India withdrawing its ambassador from Islamabad. Analysts say New Delhi will intensify the diplomatic pressure in coming days, and may scale down the Indian embassy in Islamabad, and ask Pakistan to do the same in New Delhi.

There has also been intense speculation about the possibility of Indian military action against the militant groups India accuses of the attacks, but Indian officials have called that a last option.