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Thursday, July 1, 1999 Published at 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK

World: South Asia

India says Pakistan targetting civilians

Indian artillery shells were fired through the night

Indian Home Minister L K Advani has accused Pakistan of masterminding the killing of civilians in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In the past three days, gunmen killed 12 Hindu labourers in Anantnag and 17 Muslim civilians in Surankote, both in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Kashmir Conflict
Indian warplanes and artillery fire continued to target enemy positions through the night, amid reports that military commanders were planning a final assault on guerrillas entrenched on the Himalayan heights.

Mr Advani's remarks were made at the end of a two-day trip to forward areas in the Kashmir battlezone.

The BBC's Altaf Hussein in Srinagar says Mr Advani accused Pakistan of targetting civilians after India's success in containing what he called Pakistan's incursion in Kargil.

[ image: Wounded Indian soldiers at a base hospital]
Wounded Indian soldiers at a base hospital
"Now the Kargil incursion has been contained, Pakistan is bound to revert to what it had been doing in earlier years ... the killing of innocents, going in for soft targets," the home minister said.

"In a way I regard these incidents as Pakistan's realisation that the Kargil operation is being wound up," he added.

Indian police have blamed both incidents on militant Kashmiri separatists. But a spokesman for the militant Hizb-ul Mujaheddin blamed the killing of Muslim civilians on Indian security forces.

Cautious campaign successful

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge: "Not crossing the line of control has paid of for India"
The Indian home minister also defended the approach adopted by the armed forces in the ongoing conflict.

Mr Advani said the mountain terrain and the advantage of height meant that the guerrillas controlled the pace of the operation.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

"We can free the Kargil area in days, but that would mean an enormous cost vis-a-vis manpower," he said.

On Wednesday, Mr Advani had said India would not cross the Line of Control dividing the disputed region.

Meanwhile, India continued its policy of continuous air and ground attacks to prevent the guerrillas from getting any respite.

[ image: Preparing a final assault on Tiger Hill]
Preparing a final assault on Tiger Hill
Air force spokesman Squadron Leader R K Dhingra said India carried out a fourth night of air strikes to support ground troops who are moving towards the main guerrilla base on Tiger Hill.

The Indian military said this week they have recaptured two key mountain ridges - Point 4700 and Black Rock - following the retaking of the strategically important Tololing Ridge last week.

Confused diplomatic signals

Earlier, Pakistan moved to play down remarks by a former foreign secretary, Niaz Naik, on a peace initiative to end the Kashmir conflict.

Mr Naik - who met the Indian prime minister in Delhi over the weekend - had spoken of efforts for the military commanders of the two sides to meet, and to prepare a schedule to end the conflict.

But senior Pakistani officials have been quick to minimise the strength of his remarks, saying there has been no movement in attempts to end the fighting.

India says it has lost 201 soldiers with 384 wounded and 9 missing, in almost two months of fighting.

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