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No Meeting With Musharraf in Kathmandu, says Vajpayee - 2002-01-03

The Indian prime minister has ruled out a meeting with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of a regional South Asian summit being held in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. A huge military build-up along the India-Pakistan border is keeping tensions high.

Just before departing for the regional summit in Kathmandu, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee reiterated his determination not to hold a dialogue with his Pakistani counterpart in Nepal.

The United States and several other countries have urged India and Pakistan to open talks and defuse the tense situation on the subcontinent, and many had hoped that the Kathmandu summit would provide an opportunity.

Mr. Vajpayee told reporters in the northern city of Lucknow, efforts are being made to avoid a war through diplomacy. But he said a suitable atmosphere for a dialogue would only be created when Islamabad ends what New Delhi calls cross border terrorism. Mr. Vajpayee said Islamabad must prove that it is serious about cracking down on terrorism, and inform India about the steps it has taken against two Pakistan-based militant groups which allegedly attacked India's parliament, raising tensions between the two countries.

Pakistan has arrested the leaders of the two groups and detained about 100 Islamic militants, but rejected an Indian demand for the extradition of 20 alleged terrorists and criminals wanted by New Delhi unless India hands over evidence.

Both India and Pakistan have massed tens of thousands of troops along their common border in the last two weeks. New Delhi says it is keeping the option of military action open if Pakistan fails to end terrorism against India.

Fresh attacks in Indian Kashmir by suspected Islamic militants have added to the tensions. Indian police say Muslim militants have attacked an Indian army camp in Kashmir killing two soldiers. Wednesday, Islamic guerrillas lobbed two grenades near Kashmir's state assembly in Srinagar, killing a policeman, and one civilian.

The attacks came as the Jaish-e-Mohammad group threatened fresh attacks on Indian forces. This is one of the two groups that New Delhi says was involved in the attack on its parliament.

International efforts to defuse the tensions are rising. British Prime Minister Tony Blair travels to India and Pakistan in the coming days on a trip arranged before tensions in the region flared. However efforts to thaw the latest crisis between India and Pakistan are now likely to top Mr. Blair's agenda.

Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani forces continued to trade fire along their volatile border. This has become almost a daily feature since tensions rose. Indian officials say four Pakistani soldiers were killed in the latest exchange of gunfire.