Militants called off their protest march across the Indo-Pakistan cease-fire line Thursday as a bitter debate raged in the National Assembly over the shooting deaths of up to 15 of the marchers.

Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, the prime minister of Pakistan-controlled Azad Kashmir, said Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Amanullah Khan had agreed to call off the protest in order to save lives."I have called off the march because I did not want unnecessary deaths," the Liberation Front leader told reporters later. "The (Pakistani) army had made it clear that anybody who crossed the barrier would be shot."

"At least 10 people were killed in Wednesday's firing, if not more," said the militant leader, who appeared exhausted and dissheveled. "I have made no compromise with the authorities. We called off the march to stop further loss of precious lives."

Amanullah Khan refused to condemn Pakistan for the shootings but appeared to be fighting back tears as he talked about the confrontation.

Sardar Khan, the Kashmiri prime minister, denied accusations that 15 people had been killed and 150 wounded when troops fired on the marchers Wednesday as they tried to cross a bridge six miles from the frontier.

The Kashmiri prime minister said the toll was four killed and 19 wounded, but wildly varying accounts of the incident persisted even among government officials.

The Liberation Front had called for thousands of people on both sides of the cease-fire line to cross the frontier Feb. 11 to show that they reject the division of Kashmir between predominantly Hindu India and Islamic Pakistan.

Heavy security prevented people on the Indian side from marching to the cease-fire line Tuesday. A curfew remained in force Thursday on the capital of Indian Kashmir, Srinagar, because of protests that flared Wednesday when the restrictions were lifted.

The march has sharply escalated tension between India and Pakistan, who have fought three wars in Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947. India controls two-thirds of the disputed Kashmir region, and Pakistan is in possession of the remainder.

The Liberation Front is fighting for an independent Kashmir, but many other groups favor a merger with neighboring Pakistan. Muslims in Kashmir say they want separation from India because of years of discrimination by the Hindu-dominated government in New Delhi.

Indian authorities have deployed thousands of soldiers along the border to prevent the marchers from crossing.

Pakistani security forces felled trees and caused landslides across the road in an effort to prevent marchers in Pakistan from reaching the frontier, but the crowd of some 10,000 appeared to be unstoppable despite security forces, rain and a snowstorm.