India, Pakistan Appeal for International Intervention as Kashmir Dispute Rages

Nuclear rivals India and Pakistan exchanged fire across their border in Kashmir on Monday, and the Indian military reportedly took control of the country's paramilitary forces and merchant marine in a sign of building tension over the disputed Himalayan region.

Early Tuesday, three civilians were killed and seven others were wounded when Indian and Pakistani soldiers exchanged fire in Rajouri, a Kashmir district on the international border, said Indian army spokesman Maj. Animesh Trivedi.

Each side in the simmering conflict sought to bring international pressure to bear on the other. India said it asked foreign help in isolating Pakistan, which requested international assistance in starting talks to settle the territorial dispute.

In Washington, the Bush administration announced plans to send Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the region. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the administration was "strongly concerned" about the situation.

India has refused to negotiate until Pakistan stops its alleged support for Islamic militants who have launched attacks on the Indian side of the border in Kashmir. Pakistan denies backing the militants but does support the goal of separating the Indian portion of mainly Muslim Kashmir from Hindu India.

The two nations have sent about 1 million soldiers to their frontier as the dispute flared anew over Kashmir, which has provoked two of the wars the countries fought since independence from Britain in 1947.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on both sides "to exercise maximum restraint to avert a further escalation of tensions," U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.

He said Annan also was "very concerned" at the high level of casualties due to persistent firing alone the Line of Control, the 1972 cease-fire line that divides Kashmir.

The Press Trust of India news agency reported India's powerful interior minister, Lal Krishna Advani, said the army had been asked to consult a top secret set of directions from the government about offensive operations, known as the War Book.

The day-to-day records of past wars and battle plans is so secret that it is handed personally by the civilian authority to the military authority, and is consulted only when the army is asked to prepare for war, a senior army officer told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Press Trust of India quoted Advani as saying the decision to put paramilitary troops and the merchant navy under the military command was "an indication that we are moving in a certain direction."

The latest casualties came hours before India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was to visit the troubled region Tuesday. In other fighting, suspected Islamic militants blew up an army vehicle, wounding four soldiers, police said. The ambush occurred in the Doda district, 125 miles northeast of Jammu.

On Monday, Indian and Pakistani forces blasted each other's positions with small arms and mortars for a fourth day across their Kashmir frontier. Police said a soldier and a civilian were killed when two villages in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir burned in a fire started by Pakistani shelling. More than 5,000 villagers fled the area last week.

Pakistan said India fired first on civilian targets.

"The Indian army is deliberately targeting civilians and Pakistan is retaliating wherever it is required," military spokesman Saulat Raza said in Islamabad, the capital. The Indian army says it does not target civilians.

Indian police also said suspected Islamic militants killed two Indian soldiers and wounded six others on Monday in India's Jammu-Kashmir state.

Suspected militants also shot and killed one Indian soldier and wounded two others guarding an army camp in Manjakot, 110 miles north of the state's winter capital, Jammu, said state police spokesman Subhash Raina.

Guerrillas also ambushed a paramilitary patrol, killing one police officer and wounding two others 130 miles northeast of Jammu, and blew up an army vehicle on the highway linking the Kashmir Valley with the rest of India, injuring two soldiers, Raina said.

India's Foreign Ministry said diplomats will explain India's position to foreign governments, asserting that Pakistan is responsible for militant attacks in Jammu-Kashmir.

"We have had pain inflicted on us for far (too) long," Indian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nirupama Rao told reporters in New Delhi. "The prime thrust of any diplomatic offensive would be sensitizing the world community to India's very legitimate concerns about cross-border terrorism."

Pakistan repeated its offer Monday to hold talks to resolve the 55-year dispute over Kashmir.

In Islamabad, Rao's counterpart, Aziz Ahmad Khan, said, "We hope the international community will increase further its efforts ... to convince India to see reason and come to the negotiating table for discussions and dialogue with Pakistan."

India refuses to hold talks with Pakistan, saying it has not done enough to stop incursions by Islamic militants.

Jammu-Kashmir state officials and human rights groups say 60,000 to 70,000 people have been killed since the insurgency began in 1989.

The latest tensions were caused by an attack on an army base in Jammu-Kashmir last week that killed 34 people — mostly soldiers' wives and children. India blamed Pakistan, and two Islamic guerrilla groups based there. Pakistan condemned the attack and denied involvement.

New Delhi expelled Pakistan's ambassador to India on Saturday, after withdrawing its own from Islamabad in December.

Over the weekend, firing between Indian and Pakistani forces and attacks by militants killed at least 15 people in Kashmir. Thousands of villagers fled their homes on both sides.