Tue, Nov 25, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Ceasefire in Kashmir welcomed

CONFLICT MANAGEMENT India welcomed Pakistan's unilateral decision to stop shooting across the Line of Control, but demanded action against Islamic infiltrators

AP AND AFP , ISLAMABAD AND NEW DELHI

India yesterday welcomed Paki-stan's announcement of a unilateral ceasefire along the Line of Control that divides disputed Kashmir, but said it wanted an end to the infiltration of Islamic militants into the state.

"We welcome the announcement ... of a unilateral cease-fire with effect from the holy occasion of Eid," said Navtej Sarna, India's foreign ministry spokesman, at a briefing in New Delhi yesterday.

Pakistan Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali said Sunday his country's soldiers would stop firing along the border on Eid-al-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. The festival is expected to fall in the middle of this week, but the exact day depends on the sighting of the moon.

"We will respond positively to this initiative. However, in order to establish a full cease-fire on a durable basis there must be an end to infiltration from across the Line of Control," Sarna said.

He was referring to India's contention that Pakistan arms, funds and trains Islamic militants who cross the Line of Control, a 1972 cease-fire line, to make attacks in India's portion of the region.

"To take this process further," Sarna added, "we also propose a cease-fire along the Actual Ground Position Line in Siachen."

Indian and Pakistani forces face each other on the Siachen Glacier, the world's highest battleground.

Sarna refused to give any details on what he meant by "will respond positively" or to say when India would impose a cease-fire.

"Both India and Pakistan have been making offers and counter-offers on promoting some sort of peace. What really matters is whether these preliminary steps lead to anything more tangible," said Samina Ahmed, South Asia project director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Last year, Pakistan and India sent hundreds of thousands of troops to their border and almost went to war following an attack on India's Parliament that New Delhi blamed on Islamic militants and Pakistan's spy agency -- an accusation denied by Islamabad.

Relations, while still tense, have improved since Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in April proposed a resumption of bilateral talks.

The two sides have since re-stored full diplomatic ties and some transportation links severed after the Parliament attack in December 2001. On Sunday Jamali also proposed talks between Pakistan and India on promoting air, land and ferry links.

Pakistan's ceasefire announcement follows an offer by India to hold talks with an alliance of Kashmiri separatist groups in its portion of the Himalayan region, which has been wracked by a bloody insurgency for the past 14 years. India accuses Pakistan of helping the insurgents, but Pakistan denies it.

It also comes ahead of a January summit of South Asian leaders to be held in Islamabad -- long-delayed by Pakistan-India tensions.

India has said that Vajpayee will participate in the summit, but has rejected the possibility of bilateral talks with Pakistani leaders until terrorist attacks in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir stop.

The Line of Control was drawn up after the last India-Pakistan war in 1971. Many families in Kashmir -- which is divided between the two countries but claimed in its entirety by both -- have relatives scattered on either side. Most of the casualties of border shelling are civilians.

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