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India says Pakistanis tortured 6 soldiers to death

NEW DELHI, India -- Prospects for peace between India and Pakistan dimmed Friday as Indian leaders charged that six of their soldiers were mutilated and tortured to death while in Pakistani custody.

Outrage among Indians crested on the eve of Saturday's peace talks between the two countries, which have been engaged in heavy fighting along their disputed border in the Kashmir region since last month. The fighting has raised fears of a wider war between the two states which tested nuclear weapons last year.Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh denounced the treatment of the Indian soldiers, whose bodies were handed over Thursday by Pakistani forces. Indian officials said the men, captured during a skirmish with Pakistani troops, had their eyes gouged out, and their ears, noses and genitals cut off. The bodies also bore cigarette burns, officials said.

"The entire nation is outraged by the savage treatment of our soldiers," said Singh, a former army captain. "It is a reversion to barbaric medievalism."

A Pakistani officer denied the Indian allegation, dismissing it as a "crude attempt to malign Pakistan."

The angry exchange punctured any expectation that Saturday's talks between Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz will end the fighting.

The incident illustrated how intensely the enemies are engaging one another atop the glaciated peaks of the Himalayas in Kashmir.