NEW DELHI -- Indian troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships fought intense battles with Muslim guerrillas inside the Indian part of Kashmir Tuesday, army officials said.
Tensions between India and Pakistan are at their highest level in 30 years after New Delhi launched airstrikes last Wednesday on its side of the cease-fire line against what it calls infiltrators, a mix of guerrillas and Pakistani troops.Pakistani officials said an Indian mortar attack lasting more than three hours had killed at least 10 Kashmiri schoolchildren and 50,000 people had fled their homes.
The children were killed when a village school in Neelum valley, 75 miles northeast of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-ruled Kashmir, was hit by Indian mortar fire Tuesday morning, police said.
"The area is very close to the Line of Control and can even be hit by small-arms fire," one police officer said. "It's created panic in the area."
India reported intense fighting on its side of the Line of Control. "Intense fighting is going on as of now in the Batalik sector," Brigadier Mohan Bhandari told reporters at a defense briefing in New Delhi.
"We have intelligence reports that they (the infiltrators) are getting reinforcements' help and assistance . . . we are trying to block all supply lines," Bhandari said.
Nothing moved on the diplomatic front. India's foreign ministry reported no progress after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee Monday accepted an offer from Pakistan to send Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz for talks to defuse tensions.
Foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal said: "We have not received any subsequent proposal from them on the specific date or time frame for the visit. We had received a proposal for the visit which we had accepted."
But Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani told Reuters India would not take any action that might provoke an escalation of the fighting into a war with Pakistan.
"Today, the consequences of a policy of hot pursuit, which in international affairs is legitimate, may lead to escalation of a nature we would not like," Advani said.
Pakistan says it only lends moral and diplomatic support to the rebels, who have training camps inside Pakistani territory.
The nuclear-capable rivals have fought two wars over Kashmir since their independence from Britain in 1947.
An Indian government statement said: "Troops have made a steady progress in the Kargil sector and as per the last report received from our field formations, intense fighting is going on at two places in the Batalik sub-sector.
"The Indian Air Force is playing a vital role in softening the target areas prior to infantry assaults," the statement said.