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Monday, August 10, 1998 Published at 09:43 GMT 10:43 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistan protests over Kashmir clashes

The deserted Chakoti bazaar situated at the line of control

As tension rises over the disputed territory of Kashmir, Pakistan lodged a "strong protest" with India on Saturday.

Pakistan's General Abdul Majeed Malik: "We have the right to defend"
In a strongly-worded protest note handed to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, the Pakistani Government claimed Indian troops had violated the UN-monitored line of control (LoC) in Kashmir.

More than 70 people, mostly civilians, on both sides of the disputed border have been killed as Indian and Pakistani artillery trade shells.

Pakistan has laid the blame firmly at the door of New Delhi and says: "The government of India must desist from further violations of LoC and escalation of the existing tensions in the region."

Dogfight over Kashmir

Indian fighter planes allegedly invaded the air space of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but fled when Pakistani fighters were scrambled.

[ image: Casualties are reported on both sides of the border]
Casualties are reported on both sides of the border
Pakistan claims 43 civilians have been killed in the claashes. India says 29 people have died on its side of the dividing line.

Indian officials blamed Pakistan for starting the fighting, which erupted on Thursday.

The Indians have long argued much of the firing across the line of control is initiated by Pakistan and is intended to give cover to Kashmiri Muslim militants who are trying to infiltrate Indian-controlled Kashmir.

On Saturday, Pakistan's Federal Minister for Kashmiri Affairs, General Abdul Majeed Malik, made an unprecedented admission that the militants do go back and forth across the line, but he said Islamabad offers no support to them.

Villages come under fire

Both countries have accused each other of firing on civilian villages near the line of control.

Pakistan said talks between rival military commanders have made no progress.

General Malik said 13,000 shells have been fired across the line of control in just three days.

He said the shelling was an attempt by India to undermine negotiations at a regional summit in Sri Lanka between the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

[ image: Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif: talks with India]
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif: talks with India
The fighting came as the two leaders met to try to agree on a resumption of peace talks. It was the first such high-level contact since the two countries conducted nuclear tests in May.

Troubled history

Kashmir is one of the main sources of conflict between India and Pakistan. Following an agreement signed in 1949, the two sides agreed to hold a UN-supervised plebiscite to determine the future of the state, which has a Muslim majority.

But the vote was never held and the territory became a battlefront in the war between the two countries.

Full-scale hostilities erupted in September 1965, when India alleged insurgents trained and supplied by Pakistan were operating in India-administered Kashmir.

War again broke out in 1971. The conflict has still not been resolved.

Some Kashmiri militants want the territory to be united with Pakistan while others want independence.

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