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20 Reported Killed in Kashmir on Eve of Talks

The violence comes despite easing tensions between Pakistan and India. A U.S. envoy will begin meetings today.

May 08, 2003|From Reuters

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 20 people were reported killed Wednesday in the disputed Kashmir region just before a top U.S. official was to begin meetings in Pakistan and India to encourage signs of a thaw between the nuclear-armed rivals.

India welcomed Pakistan's response to peace initiatives but said it was hoping for more.

Pakistani authorities said seven people were killed by Indians firing into the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir. Mehmood Hassan, an official in Muzaffarabad, the provincial capital, said a mortar round hit a vehicle in the Neelum Valley, about 40 miles to the northeast.

Another official, who asked not to be identified, said two soldiers and a family with two young children were among those killed after "extensive" Indian artillery, mortar and small-arms fire. He said seven other people were wounded.

In the Indian-held portion of Kashmir, police said two soldiers were killed and five others wounded in an ambush by Muslim militants.

Elsewhere, nine rebels and two other soldiers were killed in gun battles.

The violence came despite signs of easing tensions between Pakistan and India and just ahead of a regional visit by Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage.

Hours before Armitage landed in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, India said it had hoped its neighbor would do more to end what it calls cross-border terrorism in Kashmir.

"We welcome the fact that Pakistan has responded to the initiatives of our prime minister. It is quite clear that several specific steps would need to be taken by Pakistan to move this process meaningfully forward," Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, have waved olive branches since they spoke by telephone last week in the first high-level contact between the countries in more than a year. Jamali invited Vajpayee to visit Islamabad. Vajpayee responded by restoring diplomatic ties downgraded after Islamic militants attacked India's Parliament in late 2001, and announcing a resumption of air links.

Pakistan then promised resumption of travel links and sports ties.

But it has continued to insist that Kashmir be at the core of any talks, while India insists that it be just one agenda item.

Armitage arrived in Islamabad Wednesday night. He is due to confer with Pakistani leaders today, before heading to Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Friday and New Delhi later that day.

He is expected to seek Pakistan's assurances that it is serious about curbing infiltration by Islamic militants into the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir and resurgent Taliban guerrillas threatening the fragile government in Afghanistan and the U.S.-led coalition there.

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