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Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 18:17 GMT 19:17 UK

World: South Asia

India slams 'dangerous' Kashmir claims

Fighting is said to have spread to more areas along the border line

India has strongly criticised remarks by Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz that the Line of Control between the two countries in the disputed region of Kashmir is not clearly defined.

Kashmir Conflict
A government statement accused Pakistan of "manufacturing a rationale for aggression".

It said such "irresponsible" comments could have dangerous repercussions on the maintenance of peace and security.

The BBC's David Willis: "India is infuriated"
"We call upon Pakistan to respect the sanctity of the Line of Control, give up its desperate and foolhardy attempts to change it, and to stop its cross-border terrorism against India," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

"The Line of Control is well defined and fully settled."

Preparing for talks

Mr Aziz's comments come as he prepares to travel to India next week for talks aimed at defusing the crisis over Kashmir and "prevention of further deterioration" in the situation there.

[ image: Refugees such as these students have fled fighting in Drass and Kargil]
Refugees such as these students have fled fighting in Drass and Kargil
India says comments relating to the Line of Control (LoC) cannot be subjects for discussion.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman also said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had received a letter from President Clinton which indicated he had written to the Pakistani Prime Minister calling upon Pakistan to take immediate steps to defuse the crisis and respect the LoC.

The spokesman declined to reveal the text of the letter or provide any more details.

Pilot returned

Renewed artillery exchanges across the LoC came as captured Indian fighter pilot Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa was released by the Pakistani authorities as a gesture of "goodwill".

The BBC's David Willis: "More than 1,000 people cheered Flt Lt Nachiketa"
The pilot walked through a checkpoint at Amritsar to be greeted with hugs and garlands of flowers. He was flown to Delhi where he met briefly with the Indian Prime Minister.

Flt Lt Nachiketa was taken prisoner on 27 May after his MiG fighter came down close to the border between Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

He did not comment on how he had been treated, simply saying he was keen to return to Kashmir to complete his mission.

Artillery exchange

In Kashmir, Indian and Pakistani forces again exchanged intense artillery fire on Friday, as India launched its 10th day of air strikes against what it describes as Pakistan-backed infiltrators.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

India said its troops were continuing a big land offensive against the militants in the Kargil, Drass and Batalik regions of Kashmir.

Indian military officials accused Pakistan of resorting to "unprovoked artillery and mortar firing on civilian areas".

"We are awaiting reports of casualties and collateral damage. Firing is still going on," said Brigadier Mohan Bhandari.

'Pakistani soldiers recovered'

The Press Trust of India said an Indian army convoy came under heavy Pakistani shelling about two kilometres from Kargil in Indian-administered Kashmir, but that no one was wounded.

Indian troops said on Friday they had recovered the remains of two Pakistani soldiers killed while fighting alongside Islamic guerrillas.

They reportedly had identification tags proving they were regular soldiers in the Pakistan infantry.

AFP news agency said the bodies would be displayed to the media on Saturday in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir

Islamabad has denied charges that many of the militants believed to have crossed the border in the past month are soldiers of the Pakistani army.

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