Pakistan arrests 120 Islamic militants

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The Independent Online

Pakstani police said yesterday that they had arrested about 120 Islamic militants in overnight raids in Punjab province, including members of two groups India blames for an attack on its parliament that has brought the nuclear-armed neighbours close to war.

This brings to about 200 the number of Pakistani militants arrested since late December, including leaders of the two organisations India has named. But India continues to insist the Pakistani action is not enough.

General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani leader, and Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Indian Prime Minister, are attending a regional summit conference in Kathmandu, staying in the same hotel, and will be obliged to spend several hours closeted in the same conference room, but yesterday prospects for a meeting were still unclear.

On his arrival in the Nepalese capital, General Musharraf said, "One can't be very sure whether I am meeting the Indian Prime Minister or not."

Jaswant Singh, India's Foreign Minister, told a press conference in his chilliest tones: "I'm not here to conduct Indian-Pakistan relations. We have no request or information that they [Pakistan] want to meet us."

India is holding out for extra measures to be taken by Pakistan before it agrees to any thaw: at the least, for 20 terrorists on a list given to Pakistan earlier this week to be arrested and handed over for trial in India; and at the most, for "an end to cross-border terrorism", as Mr Vajpayee described it yesterday. Mr Singh appeared to acknowledge that the latter demand was idealistic when he said Pakistan would need some time "to dismantle all the edifices of terrorism that they have permitted or constructed over the past two decades". He also said that the arrest of militants by Pakistan were "welcome steps in the right direction".

On New Year's Eve, India abruptly published its new demand that terrorists be handed over for trial in India after news came that Pakistan had arrested Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, a leading militant whose organisation was blamed for the 13 December attack on the Indian parliament.

Diplomatic sources in Delhi suggested it would be politically difficult for General Musharraf to accede to the demand, as no citizen of either country has been handed over for trial in the other during more than five decades since independence. No extradition treaty is in place.

Meanwhile India and Pakistani troops exchanged fire both in Kashmir and across the border in Punjab, though according to a senior Indian official it was "routine ... at some points it was below average".

The increase in cross-border tensions comes as Tony Blair is due to hold talks with the leaders of India and Pakistan from tomorrow. Mr Blair, who arrived in the Indian hi-tech centre of Bangalore last night, will discuss the Kashmir crisis with Mr Vajpayee tomorrow. He has said he wants to act as a "calming influence" on the nations, but Downing Street insists he is not travelling with a blueprint for tackling the dispute over Kashmir.

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