- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

SRINAGAR, India Nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan exchanged shelling and threats of war yesterday, with New Delhi calling for a "decisive victory against the enemy" and Islamabad warning of retaliation that "would not be good for India."

But both governments also said they favored peace.

Pakistan said it is recalling its peacekeeping force from Sierra Leone and suggested it may have to move troops hunting for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters on its western borders to the eastern border with India.

At least six persons were reported killed in yesterday's shelling. The Pakistan army said Indian troops killed five civilians, and 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 no casualties were reported.

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 persons, mostly soldiers' wives and children.

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

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

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell appealed for the shelling to end and asked Pakistan to curb the influx of Islamic militants into the contested territory. Powell deputy Richard Armitage will travel to the region on June 4.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, due in India next week, warned that the confrontation could escalate into nuclear war.

Mr. Vajpayee met yesterday with senior military and political leaders in Srinagar, summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state.

"India has accepted the challenge thrown by our neighbor and we are preparing ourselves for decisive victory against the enemy," Mr. Vajpayee said in a subsequent statement.

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