War fears lessening, despite shelling damage

India and Pakistan are toning down their war rhetoric and sounding more conciliatory, but shelling resumed today in divided Kashmir, killing a 17-year-old youth on the Pakistan side.

India and Pakistan are toning down their war rhetoric and sounding more conciliatory, but shelling resumed today in divided Kashmir, killing a 17-year-old youth on the Pakistan side.

The shooting came despite statements from both sides on Saturday that tensions were easing in the standoff that has had the nuclear-armed rivals on the brink of war for about six months.

In the Indian part of Kashmir, Pakistani fire destroyed a television tower and wounded three people in a bus that was hit in the Punch sector, which is 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, a police officer said.

Gunmen, suspected to be separatist guerrillas, dragged four Muslim brothers out of their home and shot them dead apparently believing they were police informants in a remote mountain village on the Indian side, the police officer said on condition of anonymity.

No one claimed responsibility for the killings in Barneli in Udhampur district, 140 kilometres (90 miles) north of Jammu, the officer said.

Pakistan Television reported seven people had been killed in a border area of Pakistan on Sunday, but a military spokesman said later the deaths had occurred on Saturday.

Shelling from the Indian side killed a 17-year-old youth early today in Kotli, a city about 35 kms (22 miles) from the Line of Control that divides Kashmir, local officials said. Overnight shelling destroyed a number of homes in Kotli but they had already been evacuated, the officials said.

Authorities in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir reported heavy firing by both sides in the Kahuta Forward area, located in the Bagh district, nearly 100 kms (62 miles) southeast of the province capital Muzaffarabad.

Police said the Indian fire let up briefly on Saturday night, giving frightened civilians on Pakistan’s side a chance to pack up and flee before the shelling resumed today.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their past three wars over Kashmir and there have been fears swirling that they would get caught up in a fourth war ever since Muslim militants launched a deadly attack on India’s Parliament in December.

India said Pakistan’s spy agency backed the attack, a charge denied by Pakistan.

Leaders of other nations, including the US, Britain and Russia, have been urging a peaceful resolution, and a US envoy who visited India and Pakistan last week said tensions have come down ‘‘measurably.’’

The Indian government said on Saturday that Pakistan appeared to be making moves ‘‘in the right direction’’ and Islamabad said the ‘‘ice has broken.’’

But India is insisting that Pakistan end cross-border terrorism by Muslim militants who want Kashmir either to gain independence or to be merged with Islamic Pakistan.

Pakistan’s president, Gen Pervez Musharraf, has pledged to end the cross-border infiltration and India indicated it would wait to see whether it can detect improvements on the ground in Kashmir.

‘‘I think you couldn’t say the crisis is over, but I think you could say the tensions are down measurably,’’ American Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said on Saturday in Estonia, where he went after meeting with Musharraf in Islamabad and then with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi.

Armitage said the Indian leadership might return some diplomats to Islamabad and had discussed ‘‘some ratcheting down of some sort of military tension.’’

The conciliatory statement from India was no surprise as tensions have been easing, said J.N. Dixit, an Indian analyst who formerly served as a top foreign ministry official and ambassador to Pakistan.

‘‘But it is too early to say that Pakistan has completely stopped incursions by Islamic militants,’’ Dixit said. ‘‘One has to wait and see.’’

In Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, a pro-Pakistan separatist leader was arrested today by Indian police who accused him of illegally receiving money to support Kashmiri militants.

Police and income tax officers raided the home of Saeed Ali Shah Geelani, head of the right-wing religious-political group Jamaat-e-Islami, and took him into custody under an anti-terrorism law passed by India’s Parliament in March.

Authorities flew Geelani out of Kashmir to Ranchi in eastern Jharkhand state, where he will be kept pending court proceedings.

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