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India to pull troops from Pakistan border

troops
Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Home Minister L.K. Advani and Defense Minister George Fernandes Wednesday in New Delhi.

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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- The Indian government said Wednesday it will redeploy a half million Indian troops, pulling them back from India's border with Pakistan.

The Indian Cabinet Committee on Security announced the redeployment but said there will be no pullout in the troubled Jammu-Kashmir region.

There was no immediate response to the move from Pakistani officials.

Last summer, tensions along the 1,800-mile border appeared to be heading toward a possible fourth war between the nuclear neighbors.

George Fernandes, the Indian defense minister, said the committee "acknowledged its wholehearted appreciation" for the work of the armed forces, adding, "The successful completion of the election in Jammu and Kashmir caps their achievement."

But he added, "There will be no lowering of vigil in Jammu and Kashmir" where separatist militants have been fighting to wrest control of the region from India.

The announcements came after 90-minute meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

In Washington, the Bush administration greeted word of the Indian redeployment with relief.

"We welcome the withdrawal," a State Department official told CNN. "We're happy to hear about it."

Officials said they were not given advance warning of India's decision to pull back.

The Bush administration is hopeful Pakistan will follow suit and pull back the hundreds of thousands of troops that line the border.

"We would like to see reciprocal (action) on Pakistan's side," said the official.

Officials said they are not sure why India decided to make its move now, but speculated it may be because so many Indian troops have been on full alert since last year and with bad weather approaching this was "a good time to start lowering the level of alert."

India moved massive numbers of troops to the border last December in response to a militant attack on India's Parliament for which the government held Pakistan responsible.

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf denied any involvement.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting Islamic militants who maintain terrorist training camps in Pakistan and continue to cross over and launch attacks into Indian-controlled Kashmir.

- CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.



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