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Rumsfeld: al Qaida in Kashmir

By HARBAKSH SINGH NANDA

NEW DELHI, June 12 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned Wednesday of the presence of al Qaida members operating near the disputed Kashmir border, and acknowledged a reduction of tensions between nuclear rivals India and Pakistan.

"I have seen indications that there in fact are al Qaida operating in the area ... near the line of control," Rumsfeld said referring to the de facto border that divides Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. "I do not have hard evidence of precisely how many or who or where."

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Rumsfeld was in New Delhi to reduce tensions between the two nuclear neighbors who have been locked in a tense confrontation on their common border. More than a million troops are facing each other in Kashmir, triggering fears of an all-out nuclear war.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and financing the separatist uprising in Kashmir and of sending rebels across the border; Islamabad denies the charge. Tensions, which have simmered since their simultaneous independence from Britain in 1947, flared following the Dec. 13 terrorist attack on India's Parliament.

The United States has asked Islamabad to rein in terrorist groups operating in Kashmir and to put an end to cross-border violence in India.

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The Press Trust of India reported Rumsfeld suggested to top Indian officials a meeting of surveillance experts from Britain, the United States, India and Pakistan to work out the modalities to check the infiltration into Kashmir. He also proposed electronic sensors to monitor the infiltration, PTI said. India has yet to react to the U.S. offer.

Defense Minister George Fernandes said "understandings" had been reached with Washington on how to deal with some of the immediate problems to help create a better atmosphere in the subcontinent. Both Fernandes and Rumsfeld refused to answer questions about their meeting. During their hourlong talks, they were said to have discussed a reduction in military deployment along the border.

Earlier, Rumsfeld acknowledged tensions between India and Pakistan had declined in recent days.

"We feel that there are steps being taken which are constructive," he said.

Earlier this week, India withdrew its warships from near Pakistan and restored overflight facilities to Pakistani planes.

In addition to Fernandes, Rumsfeld also met Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and Home Minister L.K. Advani. He was scheduled to fly to Islamabad later Wednesday to meet with Pakistani officials.

Rumsfeld's visit follows U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's trip to the region earlier this month. Armitage had said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf had indicated a commitment to end infiltration into India. India acknowledged the situation along the border was improving.

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Islamabad, however, says India needs to do more to end tension. Musharraf said the situation would "remain grim" while troops remained on the border.

The two countries have fought three wars against each other, two over Kashmir.

On Wednesday, Indian and Pakistani troops continued to exchange heavy fire in Kashmir's Rajouri sector. At least 12 houses were damaged in Pakistani shelling.

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