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India: Pakistan to Carry Out Missile Tests Saturday - 2002-05-24

India's foreign ministry said Pakistan has planned a series of missile tests starting Saturday. The announcement came as European Union External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten met senior Indian officials in New Delhi. His visit is part of an international diplomatic initiative to ease tensions and prevent a military conflict between India and Pakistan.

An Indian foreign ministry statement said Pakistan plans to carry out a series of missile tests comprising short and medium range missiles between Saturday and Tuesday. The statement quoted Pakistan as describing the tests as routine, and not central to the current situation.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao gave India's reaction. "The government of India is not particularly impressed by these missile antics clearly targeted at the domestic audience in Pakistan," she said.

The planned missile tests could escalate current tensions between the two countries, whose armies are facing off each other along the Kashmir border. Tough talk by Indian officials in the last week has led to renewed fears of a war between India and Pakistan.

On Friday, European Union External Affairs Commissioner Mr. Patten told reporters India's patience is close to breaking point. His comment came after meetings with Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh, and other top officials.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Rao said Indian officials told Mr. Patten that the international community had not been able to convince Pakistan to end its support to what New Delhi calls "cross-border terrorism."

"Pakistan has to recognize that it cannot engage in cross-border terrorism and yet claim to be fighting terrorism as a member of the global coalition against terrorism. The international community would have to accept this basic and fundamental premise," she said.

In recent days, India says Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has written to U.S. President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin saying there has been no change in Pakistan's attitude. India blames Pakistan for militant activity in Kashmir, a charge Islamabad denies.

Meanwhile, early Friday Mr. Vajpayee left New Delhi for a three-day vacation to the hill resort of Manali in the Himalayan foothills. Analysts interpreted it as a signal that fears of an imminent conflict have eased.

A major national daily, Hindustan Times, also quoted unnamed officials as saying that India will give Pakistan two months to implement pledges to crack down on Islamic militants. The newspaper said the decision was reached after Prime Minister Behari Vajpayee held meetings with senior military officials in Kashmir and the cabinet committee on security in New Delhi on Thursday. Indian officials said the report was "speculative" and said no such deadline has been set.

But there was no let-up in tensions along the disputed Kashmir border as cross-border firing continued for the eighth straight day.

The current tensions between the two countries flared after India blamed Pakistan-backed militants for last week's attack on a bus and an army camp in Indian administered Kashmir. Pakistan denied the charge.