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Indian Troops to Remain on Pakistani Border for At Least 4 Months - 2002-06-27

India's Defense Minister says Indian troops will remain deployed on the border with Pakistan for at least another four months. The Defense Minister's comments follow new incidents of violence in Indian Kashmir. Authorities say two soldiers have been killed and at least 25 people injured in separate incidents.

Defense Minister George Fernandes, on a visit to the western Gujarat state, told reporters that India will not withdraw its forces until local elections are held in Jammu and Kashmir state.

The elections are due to be held by mid-October. The government is concerned that Muslim militants may attempt to disrupt the polls.

Mr. Fernandes says the decision to keep troops on the border has been made by India's top security group, headed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The Defense Minister says a pullback of troops after October will "depend on the situation." New Delhi wants Pakistan to end what it calls cross-border infiltration of Muslim militants into Indian Kashmir.

Tensions between India and Pakistan eased earlier this month after U.S. officials said Pakistan had pledged to halt infiltration of Muslim militants into Indian Kashmir. But India says it will not withdraw its troops until it is convinced that incursions have ended permanently.

Western countries are concerned about the presence of tens of thousands of troops along the borders of the two nuclear-armed countries, and are urging further steps to ease tensions.

However, on Wednesday several countries including the United States, Britain and Japan scaled down the severity of their warning against travel to India. Citizens had earlier been urged to leave the country. They have now been advised to defer non-essential travel.

Meanwhile, there has been more violence in Indian Kashmir. Officials say suspected Muslim militants hurled a grenade into a crowded marketplace in Anantnag town, about 50 kilometers south of Kashmir's capital Srinagar. At least 20 civilians and five paramilitary soldiers were injured. In another incident, two soldiers were killed when their vehicle ran over a landmine about 100 kilometers south of Srinagar.

India has long accused Islamabad of fueling the separatist rebellion in Kashmir by arming and training Islamic militants in the region. Pakistan denies the charge saying it only gives the militants moral and diplomatic support.