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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
India notes drop in Kashmir incursions
Civilians on Pakistani side of Kashmir LoC
Civilians near the LoC still face daily shelling
India has acknowledged Pakistani efforts to rein in Islamic militants, saying there has been a sharp drop in cross-border incursions.

"So far as trans-border terrorism is concerned, there has been a considerable decline," Defence Minister George Fernandes told reporters in Delhi on Wednesday.

We're seeing that it [infiltration] is ending with each passing day

George Fernandes,
Indian defence minister
But he gave no hint India was ready to pull troops back from the border, saying they would stay there "as long as necessary".

Pakistan's authorities have promised to stop militants crossing into Indian-administered Kashmir to mount attacks - a key condition of Delhi's for any resumption of dialogue.

India accuses its neighbour of sponsoring "cross-border terrorism" by sending militants to attack Indian targets.

Pakistan insists it merely offers moral support to freedom fighters.

US sensors

The two sides have massed a million troops along their border and the Line of Control dividing Kashmir since December when militants attacked the Indian parliament in Delhi.

Indian soldiers in Kashmir
Troops are staying on the border for now
Mr Fernandes' upbeat remarks were echoed by Indian army chief Sunderajan Padmanabhan, who said infiltration had gone down "significantly".

There had been "probably just one attempt" since late May, he told the Associated Press, and that had been intercepted.

Mr Fernandes also said India wanted to buy ground sensors from the US to monitor infiltration along the LoC, although no formal talks had begun.

Soldiers' leave

Tensions between the nuclear-capable rivals have been easing after intense diplomatic efforts in recent weeks by the US, UK and others.

Indian soldiers prepare to go on leave
Soldiers have not been home this year
Indian soldiers on the front line have been granted home leave for the first time since the crisis began last year.

There have also been reports that, because tensions are easing, Pakistan has felt able to move some troops back to the Afghan border to help search for Taleban and al-Qaeda suspects.

In separate comments later, Mr Fernandes said Indian troops could be pulled back if incursions remained halted for a month, or at most two.

"If we will believe that the situation is normalising, then we can do the job of calling back our army," he told Hindi-language Aaj Tak television.

Kashmir killings

Despite the drop in activity across the LoC, violence continued in Indian-held Kashmir.

Jammu and Kashmir authorities said an official of the state governing party, the National Conference, had been killed in Srinagar.

In a separate incident, police said government forces had shot dead two suspected Islamic militants in a gun battle near Srinagar.

And in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, at least one soldier was killed in an exchange of fire with Pakistani Rangers, police said.

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19 Jun 02 | South Asia
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