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Monday, July 12, 1999 Published at 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK

World: South Asia

Kashmir: India suspends air strikes

Indian soldiers return as the conflict nears its end

India has suspended air attacks in Kashmir as infiltrators continue to withdraw from their positions on the Indian side of the Line of Control.

Kashmir Conflict
"We have suspended the air strikes as of now, but we are ready for any change in the ground situation," said Air Marshal Vinod Patni of the Indian Air Force.

India says it has given Pakistan until Friday to withdraw all forces from the Indian side of the Line of Control.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Delhi said Pakistan had agreed to comply with this schedule, but there has been no confirmation of this from Islamabad.

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is due to address the nation shortly, in what is being seen as a critical speech.

The BBC's Daniel Lak reports: "Public opinion is firmly behind the soldiers"
Mr Sharif will have to explain to Pakistanis that they have not suffered a defeat in the two-month conflict, and that support for Kashmiri separatists has not suffered a blow.

Pakistan began putting pressure on the infiltrators to leave after Mr Sharif agreed with President Clinton a week ago that "concrete measures" should be taken to restore the Line of Control which divides Kashmir.

On Sunday, Pakistan and India agreed on a plan for the infiltrators to withdraw from their positions, bringing a halt to the fighting.

Islamabad correspondent Owen Bennett-Jones: "Both sides claiming victory"
Both sides said the fighters had started leaving their strongholds in the mountains of Indian-administered Kashmir, although India denied that it had agreed a truce to allow them safe passage.

Signs that the crisis was nearing an end came when Indian and Pakistani military commanders met near the Wagah border crossing in Punjab, their first talks since the fighting began.

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Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz announced that they had agreed on a sector-by-sector "cessation of ground and air operations" in Kashmir.

Most of the infiltrators - alleged by India to include Pakistani regular troops - had agreed to pull back, although others had promised to continue the fight, Mr Aziz said.

He said the process of "disengagement" had already started in the Kaksar sector, would shortly begin in the Mushkoh area and would be "gradually" completed across all the strategic mountains in the region.

Brig Rashid Qureshi: "We have observed an effective ceasefire"
Pakistan's military spokesman, Brigadier Rashid Qureshi, said there had been an "effective ceasefire" in the area for two days.

"There has definitely been a halt to artillery fire from the Indian side into Pakistani territory and there are no Pakistani guns firing at the Indian territory," he said.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

The Indians are claiming a military victory over the infiltrators.

A spokesman for the Indian prime minister said there was no use of the word "ceasefire", or any other term like it in the agreement.

Army spokesmen have insisted there is no question of a ceasefire until every intruder has left.

Islamabad said it agreed to the disengagement in order to give the international community a chance to find a solution to the Kashmir dispute.

Pakistan says it now wants Delhi immediately to engage in bilateral dialogue, and it expects President Clinton to fulfil his commitment to take a personal interest in ensuring that the dialogue process is stepped up.

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