India, Pakistan exchange shelling and war threats

Friday, May 24, 2002

SRINAGAR, India -- Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan exchanged deadly shelling and threats of war Thursday, with New Delhi saying it "accepted the challenge thrown by our neighbor" and Islamabad warning of retaliation that "would not be good for India."

But both governments also said they favored peace.

At least six people from both sides were reported killed in Thursday's shelling. The Pakistan army said Indian troops killed five civilians while India said at least one of its soldiers was killed and seven others were wounded.

The two sides fired mortar and artillery guns across the cease-fire line dividing Kashmir, said Lt. Col. H.S. Oberoi, an army spokesman in Jammu. Pakistani shells also fell in several villages in neighboring Punjab state, but there were no casualties.

India and Pakistan have massed about 1 million troops at their frontier since December. Tensions escalated last week after suspected Pakistan-based Islamic militants raided an army camp in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, killing 34 people.

On Wednesday, India's navy moved five warships closer to Pakistan after Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told hundreds of soldiers on the Kashmir border to prepare for war.

The United States and Britain urged restraint Thursday and prepared to send in diplomatic missions.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell appealed for the shelling to end and asked Pakistan to curb the influx of Islamic militants into the contested territory.

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