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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Three Pakistan soldiers dead in India border firing

Three Pakistani soldiers were killed and one Indian trooper was hurt in an exchange of fire by the rival militaries across their sensitive border in divided Kashmir, authorities said Thursday.

Both sides accused each other of starting the hostilities in the first deadly incident across the de facto border in the Himalayan region in more than three months.

The incident comes as tentative diplomatic steps were being taken to make peace between India and Pakistan, who have fought two of their three wars over Muslim-majority Kashmir -- divided between them and claimed in full by both.

Cross-border fire breaks out sporadically across the border known as the Line of Control (LoC) and each side usually accuses the other of starting it.

Pakistan army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP that the Pakistani soldiers had been moving between posts when they got lost in bad weather in the Neelum river valley before the gunfire started.

"There was a fire exchange between the two sides. This was started by the Indian side -- completely unprovoked firing, breaking the ceasefire, and after search of 24 hours their bodies were recovered," he said.

Indian army spokesman J.S. Brar said the Pakistanis shot first.

"There was a ceasefire violation by Pakistani troops in (northern) Keran sector that left our soldier injured," he told AFP from Indian Kashmir.

Brar said the first shots rang out late Wednesday Pakistani troops had "again resorted to unprovoked firing" early Thursday morning.

"We have retaliated," he added.

At first Brar said the firing had stopped, but later he said some gunfire was continuing.
"Heavy fire including artillery and mortar is being used by the other side but not by us," he said, claiming it was the fourth violation of a ceasefire agreement along the border this year.

The injured soldier was taken to an Indian army base hospital in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, he said, adding that he had no knowledge of Pakistani casualties.
Abbas said a meeting had been requested with local Indian commanders and that the deadly incident was under investigation.

The Kashmir dispute has triggered two of the three wars fought by the neighbours since independence from colonial rule in 1947.

In May, India's military said one of its soldiers was killed when Pakistani snipers allegedly shot across the border, triggering a gunfight that shattered more than a year of calm.

India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire along the Line of Control in 2003, and a year later launched talks aimed at brokering a regional peace.

The process was suspended by India following the 2008 Mumbai attacks which killed 166 people and which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

Pakistan hotly denies Indian allegations that it helps Islamic insurgents in disputed Kashmir.

The latest firing came after Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, met in New Delhi last month and both vowed to fight militancy, boost trade and sustain the peace process.

A Muslim insurgency against New Delhi's rule has rocked the Indian zone and left more than 47,000 people dead since 1989, according to an official count.

Tensions are high along the border areas in summer. Unlike in the harsh Himalayan winters, passes are open, meaning rebels can attempt to infiltrate.

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