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Blair pressing Pakistan to condemn terrorism

India, Pakistan swap artillery fire across border in Kashmir

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived Monday in Islamabad to press Pakistan's government to unequivocally condemn terrorism as a step toward defusing a dangerous showdown with India.

Blair, who was to meet President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, joined India on Sunday in pressing for a clear statement from the Pakistani government, implicitly rejecting its recent crackdown on Islamic militants as insufficient.

Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged heavy artillery fire across the border in disputed Kashmir late Sunday and early Monday, an Indian army official said, and other Indian officials said eight suspected militants and five civilians were killed in three separate incidents in the region.

The renewed shelling came after India said its soldiers shot down an unmanned Pakistani aircraft that entered India's air space Sunday over Kashmir. Pakistan denied the claim, saying an Indian aircraft crashed and India was trying to cover it up through "baseless propaganda."

Pakistani authorities have announced the arrests of dozens of militants in the past two weeks, including the leaders of the two groups India blames for a Dec. 13 assault on its Parliament.

India says the attack, which killed 14 people including the five assailants, was carried out with support from Pakistan's intelligence service. Pakistan has denied any government role.

Pakistani police said Sunday that security forces arrested 42 Muslim militants, raising the number of detainees held in the crackdown against groups opposed to Indian rule over two-thirds of Kashmir to about 300.

"We've welcomed some of the actions that have been taken by Pakistan over the past few days, but there's no doubt what needs to happen," Blair said at a news conference with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee following talks Sunday night in New Delhi.

"There must be a complete rejection of the types of terrorist actions carried out on the first of October and the 13th of December," Blair said, referring to the Parliament attack and an Oct. 1 assault on the legislature in Indian-ruled Kashmir, which India also blames on Pakistan-based militants. "There is no halfway house for that."

After Blair met with Vajpayee, he spoke on the phone for 15 minutes with President Bush, an aide to Blair said Monday. Bush and Blair agreed terrorism should be renounced and a settlement to the India-Pakistan crisis should be negotiated, the aide said condition of anonymity.

During Blair's three-day visit to India, planned long before the Dec. 13 attack, he strongly backed Indian demands that Musharraf crack down hard on Islamic militants and disavow any support of violence to further cause of Muslim separatists in Indian-ruled Kashmir.

Blair and Vajpayee signed a declaration that equated the two assaults on legislatures in India with the Sept. 11 attacks, calling them "deliberate attempts to shatter the peace of our peoples and to undermine democratic values."

"We reject the arguments of those who attempt to justify terrorism, which in all its forms must be condemned unambiguously and eradicated wherever it exists," the statement said.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Blair had joined the United States in wooing Musharraf to support the military campaign in Afghanistan. Pakistan complied and eventually severed its ties with the Taliban.

Vajpayee and Musharraf shook hands twice and met briefly during a weekend South Asian summit in Nepal, raising hopes that they might prepared to negotiate to ease the tension that has built since the parliament attack.

But Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said Monday that India has ruled out any dialogue with Pakistan in near future, saying Pakistan has not changed its attitude toward terrorism.

In the past month, India and Pakistan — which both tested nuclear weapons in 1998 — have amassed thousands of troops along their 1,100-mile frontier, cut off airspace rights, slashed their embassy staffs and halted cross-border passenger air, train and bus service.

Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India have twice gone to war over Kashmir, the mostly Muslim region divided between them after the subcontinent gained independence from Britain in 1947.

India says Pakistan is waging a "proxy war" in Kashmir. Musharraf has called the Islamic militants there "freedom fighters" but denies Indian claims that Pakistan funds and trains them.

Indian police said eight suspected Islamic militants were killed in a shootout with army troops while trying to cross into Indian-ruled Kashmir early Monday.

Police also said that in two separate attacks in the region, suspected militants hacked two shepherds to death with axes and raided a house, killing three people and wounding five.

In a speech at the Nepal summit, Musharraf said the global campaign against terrorism must distinguish between "legitimate resistances and freedom struggles on the one hand, and acts of terrorism on the other."