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Indian, Pakistani Forces Exchange Fire Along Border - 2001-12-25

Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged machinegun and mortar fire again on Tuesday, as the standoff on their common border continues. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi on the escalating diplomatic and military tensions between the nuclear armed South Asian rivals.

Indian officials say two Indian bunkers were destroyed overnight by Pakistani fire in the Samba sector of the Jammu region.

This is one of the several areas along the India-Pakistan border which has witnessed intense mortar shelling since cross border firing erupted between troops of the two countries on Sunday.

Hundreds of residents living in Indian border villages are reported to have evacuated their homes following a steady movement of troops and ammunition into the area. The government has established temporary shelters for the displaced.

Indian newspapers and television reports say air assets are also being deployed in Rajasthan and Punjab states, which share a common border with Pakistan. There are reports that warships from naval bases in the east of the country are being redeployed to the Arabian Sea along the western coast.

Tensions between the two countries escalated after India accused two Pakistani-based militant groups of responsibility for an attack on India's parliament and demanded that Pakistan crack down on the groups. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says he will take action against the groups, if India gives proof they are responsible. However, on Monday, Pakistan did freeze the assets of Lashkar-e-Taiba, one of the groups India says was behind the attack on Parliament.

Besides the escalating military tensions, the diplomatic confrontation is also continuing. The Indian ambassador to Pakistan has left Islamabad for New Delhi. He was recalled last week for what the Indian government said was Pakistan's failure to take action against the militant groups. Pakistan has said it would not respond in kind.

On Monday the Indian government also expelled a Pakistan High Commissioner employee in New Delhi for allegedly collecting sensitive national security information. Islamabad called the allegation "absurd."

The Indian government has said it does not want a military confrontation with Pakistan but is determined to end terrorism, which New Delhi blames on Kashmiri militant groups based in Pakistan.

Political observers say the government is contemplating a series of diplomatic and economic actions against Pakistan, including stopping overflights by Pakistani civilian aircraft, which use Indian airspace.

Amid the growing confrontation, a peace rally was held in New Delhi by a group of social activists and intellectuals who said "friendship, not war is the need of the hour." They said they will begin building a nationwide peace movement starting next week.