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India allays fears of nuclear war with Pakistan
( 2002-06-03 09:00 ) (7 )

India's defense minister, allaying fears of nuclear war with Pakistan, has said their confrontation could end if Islamabad handed over Indian terrorist suspects and cross-border raids ended.

The latest flareup in relations started with a bloody attack on India's parliament in December which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based militants fighting its rule in Kashmir.

The two nuclear-armed powers have massed about a million troops along their border, sparking international fears of a possible nuclear conflict.

India's Defense Minister George Fernandes said in Singapore on Sunday: "I don't think anyone should be worried about the nuclear thing. I don't know who has started this."

He told said on the sidelines of a security conference the crisis would end if Pakistan handed over 14 Indians on a list of 20 terrorist suspects New Delhi has handed to Islamabad and if border incursions ended.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf are attending a 16-nation regional security conference in Kazakhstan, but the chances of a face-to-face meeting appears remote.

Fernandes told the Singapore meeting: "India will not be impulsive. All we expect of the Musharraf regime is that it desist from supporting terrorism."

Musharraf has also described nuclear war unthinkable for any sane person. He has also said he wanted a meeting with Vajpayee, but would drop the idea if the Indian leader was not interested.


Russia is hoping to act as a mediator at the conference in Kazakhstan's commercial capital Almaty. Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to have separate meetings with the two leaders during the three-day session opening on Monday.

But Vajpayee said before leaving New Delhi "there is no such plan" for an individual meeting with Musharraf on the sidelines.

He said, however, he would give serious consideration to talks at some point if there was evidence Musharraf was making good on promises to curb raids by Islamic militants into Indian territory.

The international community fears the two leaders driven by internal pressures may lose control of the situation. A number of countries have urged their nationals to leave the area or put off visits to Pakistan and India.

India and Pakistan have regularly exchanged artillery and gun fire along the border, particularly in disputed Kashmir, since the latest confrontation erupted. The two countries have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir since independence from Britain in 1947.

Officials and witnesses said four Pakistanis and an Indian woman were killed in exchanges around the Kashmir region on Sunday.



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