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Indian PM Visiting Kashmir; Troops Exchange Fire - 2002-05-21

India's prime minister is making a three-day visit to Indian-administered Kashmir. At least three civilians were killed in Indian Kashmir as Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged fire across their frontier for a fifth day.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Defense Minister George Fernandes will tour Indian army positions in Jammu and Kashmir state. They will also meet with some of the family members of 34 people killed last week, when suspected Islamic separatist militants attacked an army base in the state.

India blames Pakistan for supporting those who carried out the attack a charge Pakistan officials deny.

The attack has led to heavy firing along the line of control that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

In a further sign of military mobilization, India re-deployed about 3,000 troops assigned to keep order in the riot-torn state of Gujarat to border areas with Pakistan. Both countries are believed to have mobilized close to one million troops along the border.

Despite the intense military preparations, Indian officials have said they are pursuing diplomatic moves to achieve and end to what they describe as "cross-border infiltration."

Nirupuma Rao, the spokeswoman for India's Foreign Ministry has said India's diplomatic position is supported by many countries. "There is a certain bandwidth here, if I may use a technical term, of all like-minded countries, who appreciate India's concerns and who empathize with it, and who understand why we have had to react in the way we have had to, in response to the situation we face," she said.

The United States, Britain and the European Union have appealed to India and Pakistan to show restraint. EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten arrives in New Delhi for scheduled talks on Thursday.

U.S. officials have said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will visit both countries by the end of the month in a further effort to ease tensions.