Indian Police Kill Islamic Guerrillas After Standoff

Police on Thursday said they killed Islamic guerrillas holed up in a base in Indian-controlled Kashmir, ending a 15-hour standoff in which four officers were killed.

A police official reported the standoff was over but provided no details on how many militants were involved and how they were killed. Defense Minister George Fernandes said four police officers had been killed in the attack.

The base was in a suspected stronghold of Islamic rebels in a mountainous area 110 miles northeast of Jammu, the winter capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir.

In a further sign of escalating tension, Pakistan announced Thursday that it was moving troops from the Afghan border, where they had been aiding U.S. forces in the search for al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

The forces were being shifted to Pakistan's eastern border with India, said chief government spokesman Rashid Quereshi. Pakistan and India already have massed a million troops in the disputed Kashmir region.

The base was in a suspected stronghold of Islamic rebels in a mountainous area 110 miles northeast of Jammu, the winter capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir.

As the standoff dragged on, police evacuated the building and had considered blowing up parts of it in an attempt to drive out the militants, the police official said.

When police officers went to retrieve the bodies of two of their dead, the militants hurled grenades, wounding five officers, he said. Police had said earlier that three officers had been killed.

Fernandes also told The AP that Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf had sent a message to the Indian leadership promising "within a certain period the cross-border terrorism would come to a halt."

New Delhi has refused to join negotiations to cool the crisis until Musharraf ends attacks in India by Islamic militants based in Pakistan. India says Pakistan encourages the attacks; Pakistan insists it has done all it can to stop cross-border incursions by Islamic militants based in its territory.

The new violence followed a U.S. State Department warning on Wednesday that "irresponsible elements" could spark a conflict between the nuclear-armed adversaries against the wishes of both governments.

"The climate is very charged and a serious conflagration could ensue if events spiral out of control," spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Musharraf, who is also head of the armed forces, on Wednesday assured troops during his visit to border areas that the entire nation will support them if India makes aggressive moves.

At least 14 people -- three Indian army soldiers and 11 civilians -- were killed in overnight artillery shelling and mortar fire from the Pakistani side, said another Indian police official, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

About 20 people were also wounded from shrapnel and gunfire as small arms fire continued Thursday in the border areas of Punch and Naushahra, the official said.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Television reported Thursday that 14 civilians were killed in Pakistan by Indian shelling overnight. That report could not immediately be confirmed.

The shelling in Kashmir resumed soon after British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw left the subcontinent after visiting Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered to mediate one-on-one talks between the two leaders during an Asian summit in Kazakhstan next week. Pakistan has accepted, but India has ruled out any negotiations until the cross-border attacks stop.

Machine gun firing began across the border in the Machhu area of Kupwara, 80 miles north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state. The area had not witnessed any firing for about four days.

Elsewhere, two unidentified militants were killed Thursday in separate encounters with the Indian army, the army said. It gave no further details.

Jaswant Singh, India's foreign minister, said Wednesday that if Pakistan wants peace, it must act urgently to stop Islamic militants from infiltrating Indian territory to stage terror attacks in Kashmir.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars were over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

India accuses Pakistan of waging a proxy war for 12 years by funding, training and arming the militants and providing covering fire for them to cross the border. Pakistan insists it only provides moral and diplomatic support for the militants, who are fighting for Indian Kashmir's independence or merger with Pakistan.

At least 60,000 people have died in the insurgency.

On Wednesday, Pakistan's U.N. ambassador said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had proposed setting up a 300-member helicopter-borne monitoring force to monitor the Line of Control separating Indian- and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Munir Akram said Straw made the proposal during meetings this week in Islamabad.

"As far as Pakistan is concerned, if India was to accept that, we would also consider accepting that on both sides of the Line of Control to monitor the situation," Akram said.