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Fighting Escalates in Kashmir          01/20 10:01

   SRINAGAR, India (AP) -- Indian and Pakistani troops traded fire Saturday 
along their volatile frontier in Kashmir, killing at least five civilians and a 
soldier in the latest escalation of violence in the disputed region.

   The deaths on both the sides of the border came as the nuclear-armed rivals 
exchanged blame for initiating the hostilities, which have involved the 
shelling of villages and border posts and are in violation of a 2003 cease-fire 
accord.

   Saturday's fighting is the fourth straight day of deadly confrontation 
between the neighbors, with six civilians and three soldiers killed in previous 
days.

   India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, a 
Himalayan territory claimed by both in its entirety. They have fought two of 
their three wars over the region since they gained independence from British 
colonial rule in 1947.

   Indian police said Pakistani soldiers were targeting Indian border posts and 
villages with mortar shells and automatic gunfire on Saturday in Jammu region. 
Three civilians, one a teenage boy, were killed Saturday in Indian-controlled 
Kashmir and at least 16 civilians and two soldiers were wounded.

   An Indian army soldier was killed Saturday in Poonch sector along the de 
facto frontier where Indian and Pakistani soldiers were trading gunfire and 
mortar shells, said Col. Nitin Joshi, an Indian army spokesman.

   Pakistani officials blamed India for killing two civilians and wounding four 
others along the frontier.

   Both countries have accused the other of initiating past border skirmishes 
and causing civilian and military casualties.

   Pakistan's foreign ministry on Saturday summoned the deputy Indian High 
Commissioner to lodge a protest over what it called unprovoked cease-fire 
violations by Indian troops.

   A statement from the ministry said four civilians were killed and 20 others 
wounded by Indian firing on Thursday and Friday.

   Most of the recent fighting is taking place along a somewhat-defined 
frontier where each country has a separate paramilitary border force guarding 
the lower-altitude 200-kilometer (125-mile) boundary separating 
Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab.

   Late Friday, it escalated to the contentious frontier that includes a 
740-kilometer (460-mile) rugged and mountainous stretch called the Line of 
Control that is guarded by the armies of India and Pakistan.

   On Friday, the two countries summoned other's senior diplomats in their 
capitals to register their anger and protest over what both call unprovoked 
cease-fire violations. They also issued statements condemning the violence.

   Schools in frontier villages have been closed on the Indian side and 
authorities advised residents to stay indoors as shells and bullets rained down.

   Indian authorities have also deployed bulletproof vehicles to evacuate 
people who were injured and sick. Bullets and shrapnel scarred homes and walls 
amid the intense firing and shelling.

   The exchange of fire comes after Islamabad on Monday accused Indian forces 
of killing four Pakistani soldiers along the Line of Control in Kashmir, where 
rebel groups demand that Kashmir be united either under Pakistani rule or as an 
independent country.

   India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan 
denies.

   Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian 
military crackdown since 1989.


(KA)

 
 
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