War Fears Lessening, But Persistent Shelling Causes More Damage in Kashmir

India and Pakistan have toned down their warlike rhetoric and sounded more conciliatory notes, but cross-border shelling persisted Sunday in Kashmir, killing a teenager on the Pakistani side.

Indian police also arrested a separatist leader Sunday under a new anti-terrorism law, a move that Pakistan said showed India's disregard for civil rights in Kashmir.

Indian and Pakistani forces fired artillery across the Line of Control that divides the disputed Himalayan province despite statements from both sides on Saturday that tensions were easing in the standoff that has the nuclear-armed neighbors close to war.

Shelling from the Indian side killed a 17-year-old boy early Sunday in Kotli, a city 22 miles from the line, local officials said. Shells fired overnight also destroyed a number of homes in Kotli that had been evacuated, the officials said.

Authorities in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir also reported heavy firing by both sides in the Kahuta Forward area, in the Bagh district, about 60 miles southeast of the regional capital Muzaffarabad.

In a remote mountain village on the Indian side, gunmen dragged four Muslim brothers out of their home and shot them to death, apparently believing they were informants, an Indian police official said.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack in Barneli in Udhampur district, 90 miles north of Jammu, the winter capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state, the officer said on condition of anonymity.

Pakistani shells hit a bus in the Punch sector close to the Line of Control, injuring its driver, ticket taker and mechanic, the officer said. Police said shells also destroyed a television tower in the Punch sector, which is 125 miles north of Jammu.

Cross-border shelling killed a total of at least 10 people on both sides Saturday. Police said Indian fire let up briefly on Saturday night, giving frightened civilians on the Pakistani side a chance to pack up and flee before the shelling resumed Sunday.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, and a deadly attack on India's Parliament in December sparked a military buildup that has led to fears of a fourth major conflict between the rivals.

India blamed the attack on Islamic militants it said were backed bu Pakistan's intelligence agency, a claim Pakistan denied.

International leaders have been urging a peaceful resolution, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who visited the region last week, said tensions have come down "measurably."

The Indian government said Saturday that Pakistan appeared to be making moves "in the right direction" and Islamabad said the "ice has broken."

But India is insisting that Pakistan end cross-border attacks by Muslim militants who want Kashmir to be independent or merge with Islamic Pakistan.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has pledged to end infiltration across the border. India indicated it would wait to see whether it can detect improvements in Kashmir.

"I think you couldn't say the crisis is over, but I think you could say the tensions are down measurably," Armitage said Saturday in Estonia, where he went after meeting with Musharraf in Islamabad and with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in New Delhi.

Armitage said the Indian leadership might return some diplomats it has withdrawn from Islamabad and had discussed "some ratcheting down of some sort of military tension."

Jammu-Kashmir state is the only Muslim-majority state in predominantly Hindu India, and separatist guerrillas have been fighting against a massive Indian security force there since 1989.

The insurgency has claimed more than 60,000 lives. Pakistan says it offers diplomatic and moral support to the militants, but denies arming them.

On Sunday in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir, Indian police raided the home of Saeed Ali Shah Geelani, head of the religious and political group Jamaat-e-Islami, and took him into custody under an anti-terrorism law passed in March.

Authorities accused him of illegally receiving money to support militants, said Ashok Kumar Suri, director-general of state police.

"The arrest is part of a larger exercise to strangulate the funding of terrorist groups operating in Kashmir," Suri told reporters.

Islamabad said India should immediately release Geelani. A statement from Pakistan's Foreign Affairs office said the arrest reflected the Indian government's utter disregard for the fundamental rights and liberties of Kashmiri people.

The All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an umbrella organization of Kashmiri separatist groups, called for a general strike in Jammu-Kashmir state on Tuesday to protest Geelani's arrest. Such strikes generally shutt down much of the state.