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Vajpayee declines Clinton invitation

By
HARBAKSH SINGH NANDA

NEW DELHI, India, July 4 -- Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has declined an invitation from President Clinton to visit Washington to discuss the ongoing conflict in Kashmir. India's foreign ministry spokesman R.S. Jassal today said President Clinton called Vajpayee and urged him to visit the United States. 'Mr. Vajpayee said he could not accept the invitation under the present circumstances,' Jassal said.

Jassal said Clinton spoke with Vajpayee for about 10 minutes to inform him of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Washington and to extend the invitation. Sharif is meeting with President Clinton today in an attempt to resolve the Kashmir crisis. India has refused any third party mediation to resolve the 52-year-old dispute over the Himalayan region. Indian troops have been fighting for weeks in Kashmir's snowy, rugged mountains to eject Islamic rebels allegedly backed by Pakistani troops who have crossed the unmarked 1972 cease-fire Line of Control. Intense diplomatic efforts by Washington have so far failed to halt the fighting between New Delhi and Islamabad. India has said that no peace talks could be held until Pakistan withdraws its troops from the Indian side of Kashmir. Pakistan denies having any soldiers in the area, saying the fighters are separatist Islamic guerrillas seeking independence for the Indian portion of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority. The rest of India is predominantly Hindu. Both India and Pakistan claim the whole of Kashmir. While India controls two-thirds of the region, Pakistan controls the remaining third. The two have fought two of three wars over the Himalayan region. Officials say more than 875 people have died in the recent conflict. ---

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