Indian, Pakistani Troops Exchange Fire in Kashmir

India and Pakistan exchanged intense artillery and machine-gun fire along their frontier Monday, as fighting spread for the first time this year to a key area of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, officials said.

At least eight civilians died and 23 were injured in the shelling along the frontier of the disputed Himalayan region, officials said. The skirmishes came as leaders of both countries attended a regional summit in Kazakhstan.

Firing on Monday spread for the first time thhe Indian side, police in Jammu-Kashmir state said one civilian was killed and seven others were injured by Pakistani firing. The Indian defense ministry reported heavy shelling in three areas of Kashmir, and said its army hit and destroyed 13 Pakistani bunkers across the frontier from Dras.

The Indian military said its shelling came in retaliation to Pakistani firing.

India and Pakistan have massed a million troops along the frontier. New Delhi blames the parliament attack on Pakistan-based Islamic groups and has threatened a military strike if Islamabad does not stop cross-border terrorism.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf attended a summit that opened Monday in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

While Kashmiris are hoping the two leaders will resolve the brewing crisis, Vajpayee has said he won't meet with Musharraf until infiltration of Pakistan-based Islamic militants and attacks in Indian territory end.

Thousands of villagers living on both sides of the Line of Control have fled amid the latest round of war mongering, Indian and Pakistani officials said.

The Indian army on Monday informed residents of Jammu, winter capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, that they would be given a blackout drill on Tuesday. Similar drills were conducted immediately after the Dec. 13 parliament attack.

India accuses Pakistan of helping more than a dozen militant Muslim groups who have been fighting since 1989 to separate Kashmir from India. Islamabad says it only gives moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiri rebels, whom it calls freedom fighters.

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars — including the two over Kashmir.