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India shuns Pakistan talks offer

Villagers leave Asaluttal on the India-Pakistan border
The Indian Army has ordered more than 40 villages evacuated by early next week  

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- New Delhi has shunned overtures from Pakistan to hold peace talks, saying its neighbour must do more to stop militants.

With the shadow of war looming larger, India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee brushed aside an offer from Pakistan's President Gen. Pervez Musharraf to meet at a regional summit.

Musharraf had said Friday he was willing to meet with Vajpayee during a summit of South Asian nations in Nepal next week.

But Vajpayee said on Saturday India will not deal with Pakistan until it stops supporting cross-border terrorism.

Speaking at an executive committee meeting of his ruling Hindu-nationalist BJP party, Vajpayee said he wants more international pressure placed on Pakistan to shut down terrorism. He said the international community must show the same resolve towards Pakistan as it did towards Afghanistan in wiping out terrorism.

India blames Islamic militants for the December 13 attack on parliament that left 14 people dead. India claims Pakistan backs those militants, who seek independence for the disputed region of Kashmir.

U.S. officials are concerned India and Pakistan might be tempted to use nuclear weapons. CNN's David Ensor reports

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Tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated since 14 people were killed in an attack on India's Parliament. CNN's Michael Holmes reports

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Fearful villagers flee India-Pakistan border 
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Shahed Sadullah, Journalist with the Daily Jang has Pakistan's perspective
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Since the attack, witnesses have described a military buildup on both sides of the countries' shared border, leading the international community to urge restraint and a reduction in the level of tension.

Vajpayee said he would meet leaders of opposition parties Sunday to discuss the heated situation with Pakistan.

He said his BJP party endorses all the measures the Indian government has taken so far, including a ban on Pakistani airliners entering its airspace and cuts in the size of the Pakistani diplomatic delegation in India.

Pakistan imposed similar measures shortly after India acted Friday.

Vajpayee also criticized Pakistan's motives for fighting terrorism along its western border with Afghanistan, saying Musharraf only joined the international coalition against terror so it could gain support for taking over Kashmir.

Pakistani diplomatic sources complained India was embarking on dangerous brinkmanship at a time when Islamabad is committed to the allied effort to stop terrorism along its western border with Afghanistan, where thousands of Pakistani troops are deployed.

On its eastern border with India, Pakistan has deployed the largest number of troops in years.

Taj Mahal under cover

India began preparations to camouflage the Taj Mahal out of fear of Pakistani airstrikes and 12 Indian soldiers were killed laying mines to deter tanks.

After a brief lull, gunfire resumed across the border in the Jammu region of Jammu-Kashmir state overnight along the disputed Line of Control, the cease-fire line, police and army officials said.

Indian and Pakistani soldiers, deployed 100 meters (110 yards) away from each other at many positions, traded gunfire in the region's Hiranagar, Samba and Pallanwala sectors, they said.

In the northern Indian city of Agra, officials said they were preparing to wrap the Taj Mahal, the legendary 17th century marble mausoleum, in khaki cloth to protect it from a possible Pakistani air strike.

"The Taj shines as far as 40 kilometers (24 miles) away, and is visible especially on moonlit nights. It could be a target," M.S. Juyal, tourism official in the northern Uttar Pradesh state, told The Associated Press. "We are using khaki camouflage cloth."

In New Delhi, Nirupama Rao, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said India would examine reports of arrests in Pakistan of 50 suspected Islamic militants and terrorists -- whose alleged patronage by Islamabad has brought the two nations close to war.

Responding to U.S. President George W. Bush's praise of Musharraf for the reported arrests, Rao told The Associated Press: "We will need to make our own assessment of the substance and nature of Pakistan's actions."

As the neighbours massed troops and traded tit-for-tat sanctions, President Bush said the United States was working hard to restore calm and prevent a fourth war between the South Asian countries.

Concessions made

India's government said Friday it will grant Musharraf an exception to its ban on Pakistani airliners entering its air space, allowing Pakistan's president to fly over India en route to the Nepal summit next week.

Pakistan International Airlines, meanwhile, said it will suspend five routes, use Chinese air space for other routes and shut down its offices in India because of that country's action.

India also extended until January 5 the time it had given half of Pakistan's diplomatic corps in New Delhi to leave the country. India announced the sanctions Thursday, originally ordering the diplomats out within 48 hours.

In a statement released in Moscow Friday, foreign ministers from the Group of Eight leading industrial nations called for the two countries to resume political dialogue and urged Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups operating from within its borders.

Indian and Pakistani troops shelled each other in disputed Kashmir overnight  

The call for dialogue was echoed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which also issued a statement urging restraint.

"Resorting to arms and to the use of force will never resolve the problems, but would rather further aggravate hostility... and lead to human, economic and social tragedies of colossal dimension," OIC Secretary General Abdelwahed Belkeziz said.

Vajpayee is facing elections in India's biggest state and three others in February and is under intense pressure from his own party and many ordinary Indians to take tough action.

The United States fears a conflict between Indian and Pakistan will hamper its war against terrorism, including its hunt for Osama bin Laden, blamed for masterminding the September 11 attacks on the United States.


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