Shelling continues, but lessened, in Kashmir after Rumsfeld visit

Friday, June 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Shelling continued on both sides of the Kashmir frontier Friday, killing four people, despite a plea by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for both sides to hold their fire.

Also Friday, suspected separatist militants blew up part of a bridge in Indian-controlled Kashmir, halting traffic but causing no deaths or injuries.

Despite the continued shelling in Kashmir, Indian army officers said the artillery fire was light compared to the heavy exchanges of the past month.

Police in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir said Indian shells had killed a 1-month-old baby, a 6-year-old boy, and a man and a woman in Nakyal, 160 miles to the south of Muzaffarabad. The shelling wounded eight people and destroyed one home, they said.

Army officers in Jammu, the capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, said five Pakistani shells landed in Nangial village in Rajauri sector, 62 miles to the north.

As he left for Washington on Thursday after two days of shuttle diplomacy between New Delhi and Islamabad, Rumsfeld had urged a halt to all artillery and mortar fire across the disputed Kashmir frontier. He said that would ``begin a process of easing some of the lingering hostilities'' between the two nuclear-armed neighbors.

On Friday, the army took advantage of the slowdown in shelling to transport journalists to the front line, where they had been barred from going for weeks.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee convened a meeting of his Cabinet Committee on Security to review his discussions with Rumsfeld, but no announcements were made afterward.

When reporters asked if India was going to make more diplomatic gestures to relieve the tense situation, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said: ``The situation is pregnant with possibilities. I am waiting for the right moment.''

Between visits to the subcontinent by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage last week and Rumsfeld this week _ both aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan _ New Delhi lifted a six-month ban on Pakistani aircraft flying over Indian space and pulled back warships from positions close to Pakistani waters.

Those steps followed an assurance from Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf _ relayed to India by Armitage _ that he had ordered his army to stop movement across the Kashmir frontier by militants who stage bombings and armed assaults on civilians and security forces in Indian territory.

On Friday suspected militants used explosives to extensively damage half of the bridge linking the township of Shopiyan with Kulgam in the southern part of Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Infiltration by Pakistan-based militants ``seems to have gone down a little but I don't think it has stopped,'' Lt. Gen. V.G. Patankar told The Associated Press in Srinagar. ``We don't know how long it will remain so.''

He gave no numbers, but there have been noticeably fewer militant attacks in the last week.

The military standoff between the South Asian rivals began after a Dec. 13 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based Islamic groups and Islamabad's spy agency. Pakistan denied the charge.

There are still 1 million troops deployed along the frontier. All ground and air transportation between the two countries has been cut, and neither country has an ambassador in the other's capital.

Indian and Pakistani troops have traded heavy artillery fire since December, and shelling at the border intensified a month ago after a militant attack on an Indian army base killed 34 people, mostly soldiers' wives and children.

More than 100 civilians have been killed and thousands of residents of border villages have fled since then, army and police on both sides say.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two over control of Kashmir, since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

India accuses Pakistan of training and financing more than a dozen militant groups fighting for independence of the Himalayan region or its merger with mostly Muslim Pakistan. Islamabad says it provides the militants with only moral and diplomatic support. The 12-year insurgency has killed more than 60,000 people.