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Pakistan Accuses India of Artillery Shelling of Kashmir - 2003-10-16

Pakistan says Indian troops have carried out "unprovoked" artillery shelling across the disputed Kashmir border, killing at least 11 civilians. Senior Pakistani military officials say the firing has raised tensions in the region.

A spokesman for the Pakistani military, Major-General Shaukat Sultan, says that in the past two days Indian troops have fired mortar shells across the line of control that divides Kashmir. He says mainly civilian targets have come under attack. General Sultan says Pakistan also has responded by hitting Indian military positions.

"The Indians, they carried out unprovoked shelling along the 'line of control' [dividing Kashmir], so the situation along the line of control is certainly tense and the civilians are under a lot of pressure," said General Sultan. "Under compulsion even of Pakistan exercises restraint, it has to respond when the civilians are being targeted."

Authorities in Indian-ruled areas of Kashmir are reported as saying that firing by Pakistani troops have injured at least three civilians and damaged more than two dozen residential houses on their side of Kashmir.

No independent confirmation of the clashes is available. But Pakistani and Indian soldiers frequently exchange fire across the disputed border in Kashmir. The region has caused two wars and remains a major source of tension between India and Pakistan.

The latest clashes occur during a recent surge in violence in the Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir, where New Delhi alleges Islamabad is sponsoring an on-going Muslim separatist insurgency. Pakistan denies the allegation. Pakistani military spokesman General Sultan.

"It is absolutely baseless," he said. "Pakistan is not involved in any kind of, let us say, supporting the infiltration or cross border activity. Whatever is going on inside Kashmir is totally [a] freedom struggle."

The international community, led by the United States, has been urging India and Pakistan to reduce the tension over Kashmir and try to settle the conflict through talks. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage reiterated that call during a trip to Pakistan early this month.

"We have no question that the issue from Washington's perspective, the issue of Kashmir is one that has to be resolved through dialogue," said Richard Armitage. "We continue to seek the resolution."

India and Pakistan both have equipped their armies with nuclear weapons in recent years and have tested nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. These developments have raised fears another war between the two rival nations could lead to a nuclear exchange.

Tensions have eased this year as India and Pakistan have moved to restore full diplomatic relations and have resumed a cross-border bus service. But there are no signs that the hostile neighbors will resume bilateral talks to settle their differences.