Fighting rages along dispute Kashmir line

 

HEAVY firing raged along India and Pakistan's disputed border in the Himalayan region of Kashmir yesterday. Both sides exchanged mortar and machine gun fire for the seventh day.

Seven people were injured, two seriously, in border firing by Pakistani troops on Indian positions, a state government spokesman said yesterday. Cross border hostilities had abated by late in the day, except in the border area of Chicken Neck, so called because of its shape.

Chicken Neck was the scene of bloody tank battles in 1965 during the second of three wars between India and Pakistan.

Last Friday at least 22 people, were killed inside Pakistan when a rocket crashed into a mosque during prayers, in what diplomats in Islamabad and New Delhi are calling a dangerous escalation of hostilities. President Farooq Leghari said yesterday Pakistan would respond to the rocket attack.

India on Saturday successfully tested a long range missile, called the "Super Prithvi", which is capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. All of Pakistan's major cities now fall within the range of Indian missiles. Both countries are thought to possess nuclear weapons.

India claims that yesterday's fighting erupted when Pakistani troops tried to provide cover fire to enable armed Kashmir guerrillas to slip across the snowy mountain border. A defence spokesman said, "The firing by the Pakistanis may have been to divert the army's attention to push in more militants.

The chief executive in Pakistan controlled Kashmir demanded that civilian border residents be armed to defend themselves against what he called attacks by Indian troops. Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan said "we shall have to arm people living close to the border."

Mr Khan, who is state premier, said arms should be provided by Pakistan to all people living within three miles of the Line of Control, the line bisecting Kashmir.

Mr Khan urged the United Nations to take notice of "increasing border violations" by the Indians and firing on civilians.

Meanwhile, the Indian authorities claim to have restored ties with militant kidnappers who are holding four westerners. Talks were broken off by the Al Faran captors last November when India refused the kidnappers' demands that jailed Kashmir militants be exchanged for the tourists' freedom.

The London Independent has learned that the militant kidnappers have moved their hostages. Police sources claim that the four westerners were taken on a two day march over the mountains into the Doda district, which is at a lower altitude and not lashed by the fierce Himalayan blizzards. Police said the Al Faran and their captives are not far from the main Jammu Srinagar highway.

All four captives were sighted by villagers several days ago in Kishtwar, a forest covered regions which is a stronghold for Kashmir separatists. "They were fully exhausted but were trying to keep" pace with their captors," said one police official.

Militants who claim to represent the Muslim majority in Kashmir, are waging a six year uprising Indian security forces.

India accuses Pakistan of aiding the many Kashmir guerrilla factions.

The Al Faran group holding the hostages is said to be extremist in its Islamic views, and many of the kidnappers are Afghan warriors who consider the Kashmir Muslims' battle against the primarily Hindu Indian security forces to be a jihad. The westerners, now in their seventh month of captivity, had little idea of this vicious conflict when they blithely set out trekking last summer in Kashmir. Their wives and girlfriends accompanying them were freed.