ISLAMABAD (AP) — Indian troops shot and killed a Pakistani soldier who crossed the makeshift border separating Indian and Pakistani held Kashmir, officials said Friday, in a development that threatened to upset the delicate ceasefire in a region claimed by both countries.
The incident in Kashmir evoked similar episodes in January, in which three Pakistani soldiers and two Indian soldiers were killed. The deaths have ratcheted up tensions in an area where the two countries have long battled for dominance.
A Pakistani military official initially told reporters in a text message Friday that the soldier was reported killed on Thursday night after he'd accidentally crossed the line of control that separates the Pakistani- and the Indian-held sides of Kashmir, but gave no details. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with military protocol.
In a more strident statement later Friday, the Pakistani military accused the Indian troops of killing the soldier after he identified himself and explained why he was accidentally in their territory.
The statement, from the public relations arm of the Pakistani military, said that civilians had seen the Pakistani soldier being questioned by the Indian military and told Pakistani officials. Pakistani officials then approached the Indians, asking them to hand over the soldier. But when generals from both sides spoke this morning, the Indian side reported that the Pakistani soldier had been killed, according to the statement.
"We condemn such an inhuman and brutal act of killing our soldier after he had identified himself and explained his position," the statement read. Inter Services Public Relations said that in previous incidents, when Indian soldiers have strayed into Pakistani territory, they have been returned.
Pakistan's foreign ministry also condemned the killing.
"The killing of our soldier who had lost his way and inadvertently crossed the Line of Control, goes against the understanding reached between Pakistan and India on speedy return of inadvertent line crossers and has the potential to further vitiate the atmosphere," it said in a statement.
Pakistan has asked India to carry out a thorough investigation into the incident and ensure it does not recur. But the Indians blamed the Pakistani soldier, saying he had begun firing when confronted by their troops.
Lt. Col. Rajesh Kalia, a spokesman for the Indian army in Kashmir, said the soldier was killed in a firefight with Indian troops in which an Indian soldier was injured. He said Indian troops had seen "suspicious movement" in the Nowshera sector of the line of control.
"Our troops challenged him. This individual resorted to indiscriminate firing. Our troops retaliated. In the ensuing firefight, he was killed, and one of our soldiers was injured," Kalia said.
Kalia added that Indian forces realized the dead man was a soldier "after the Pakistan army contacted our officers."
"We are returning his body with full respect as a soldier deserves," he said.
Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the Muslim-dominated region that each claim as their own. Any incident along the line adds to the tensions.
In January, three Pakistani soldiers and two Indian soldiers were killed in a series of attacks along the line of control. India said one of its soldiers was beheaded.
Pakistan and India struck a cease-fire agreement over Kashmir in November 2003. There have been periodic violations of the cease-fire, but the incidents in January were the most serious.
The resulting tensions have disrupted cultural and sporting ties: Performances by a Pakistani theater group were canceled in the western Indian city of Jaipur and in the Indian capital following protests by hard-line Hindu groups, and nine Pakistani hockey players who went to India to participate in a tournament were sent home.
More recently, the Indian-held part of Kashmir has been rocked by violent anti-India protests after a man convicted in the 2001 attack on India's Parliament was hanged in a New Delhi jail.
Many in Kashmir believe Mohammed Guru did not get a fair trial and the secrecy with which the execution was carried out only fuelled the anger in a region where anti-India sentiment runs deep.
A curfew has been in place since the execution, but groups of demonstrators have defied it and clashed with government forces. Three protesters have been killed and more than 100 have been detained, according to police.
Insurgents have been fighting in Kashmir for more than two decades, demanding either a separate state or merger with Muslim-majority Pakistan.
India accuses Pakistan of financing and supporting insurgents agitating in Kashmir.
Associated Press writer Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India contributed to this report.