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India and Pakistan test missiles

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 27, 2003


NEW DELHI -- India and Pakistan tested short-range missiles Wednesday, a day after each side blamed the other for rising violence in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Although it was unclear which country launched first, the tit-for-tat tests came in the wake of renewed tension between the South Asian rivals after a massacre on Monday of 24 Hindus by suspected Islamic militants in Kashmir, which is claimed by both countries.

India said it tested a Prithvi surface-to-surface missile, capable of carrying a 1-ton nuclear warhead, from its seaside testing site in the eastern state of Orissa. A spokesman for India's Defense Research and Development Organization said the missile has a range of 95 miles. Testing of the missile, abandoned twice in December because of technical problems, was a routine exercise to improve the country's missile defense system, the spokesman said.

India has conducted 16 trials of the army version of the missile since 1988.

Pakistan tested its short-range, nuclear-capable Abdali missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads. It has a range of about 132 miles and could hit parts of India.

"Pakistan also test-fired a missile today, but we informed India about it," Aziz Ahmed Khan, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said Wednesday.

Khan said India hadn't informed Pakistani officials about the Prithvi test. He declined to say whether the Pakistani test occurred before or after the Indian test.

The tests occurred after a new round of violent attacks in Kashmir, which has been the focus of two wars and countless skirmishes between the nuclear-armed rivals. India accuses Pakistan of stoking the 13-year-old armed revolt there, which officials say has killed more than 35,000 people.

Last year, the two countries' armies faced off along their border for 10 months after India blamed Pakistan for sheltering militants who staged an attack on the grounds of India's Parliament building. Tensions eased after mediation conducted by the United States.

N. Korea cuts off regular military contact with U.N.

PANMUNJOM, Korea -- North Korea on Wednesday cut off the sole regular military contact with the U.S.-led U.N. Command that monitors the Korean War armistice, saying it was "meaningless" to sit with the Americans.

The move will further isolate the North amid heightened tension over its suspected nuclear weapons programs.

The North's Korea People's Army sent a telephone message to the U.N. Command saying it will no longer send its delegates to the liaison-officers' meeting at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom.

"It is meaningless to sit together with the U.S. forces side to discuss any issue as long as it remains arrogant," the North's official news agency KCNA quoted the North Korean message as saying.

3 Americans killed when plane crashes in Colombia

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Three Americans were killed in the jungles of southern Colombia when a U.S. government plane carrying out a search for three Americans kidnapped last month by Marxist rebels crashed, authorities said on Wednesday.

The Americans were traveling in a single-engine Cessna 208 when engine trouble apparently brought the aircraft down in Caqueta Province, about 230 miles south of the Colombian capital, Bogota, Colombian and American officials said. The plane exploded upon impact on Tuesday, the Colombian military reported.

The identities of the Americans were not released, pending notification of relatives, but an official at the U.S. Embassy said they were working for a private company under contract to the U.S. government.

NATO signs 7 members

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- NATO officially signed up seven eastern European nations to become members on Wednesday, an expansion hailed as a historic reunification of the continent after decades of Cold War division.

In an emotional ceremony at NATO headquarters, foreign ministers from Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Estonia and Latvia approved the formal protocols of adhesion.

"This is a momentous day for NATO," said Nicholas Burns, the U.S. ambassador to NATO. "The United States congratulates these seven nations for their dedication to the alliance and the broader trans-Atlantic relationship."

NATO invited the seven to join at a November summit in the Czech capital, Prague. The countries will become members in May 2004 if their parliaments ratify the treaties.

Japan prepares to launch two spy satellites

TOKYO -- Under tight security, Japan is preparing to launch two spy satellites Friday that will mark the country's first military use of space and begin moving its intelligence agencies away from dependence on the United States.

The decision to launch the satellites, which analysts say will focus on North Korea and China, results from Japan's dissatisfaction with periodic restrictions Washington places on sharing satellite intelligence and delays in notifying Japan's top officials of a 1998 missile launch by North Korea.

The program has quietly taken Japan another step away from the pacifist constitution that in theory bans the country from having a military, and from a 1969 pledge that Japan's space program would be only for "peaceful, nonmilitary" use.

Elsewhere . . .

NIGERIA: Ijaw militants battling soldiers and tribal enemies in Nigeria's oil-rich delta region called for a cease-fire Wednesday after state officials agreed to support their political demands.

INDIA: Gunmen shot to death a senior Hindu nationalist in western Gujarat state on Wednesday, raising fears of revenge attacks in a region where Hindu-Muslim violence killed more than 1,000 people last year.

Haren Pandya, a leader of a paramilitary Hindu nationalist group and a member of India's governing party, was shot by two assailants in the state's largest city of Ahmadabad, Police Commissioner K.R. Kaushik said.

FRANCE: Vandals in Bordeaux on Wednesday torched a replica of the Statue of Liberty and cracked the pedestal of a plaque honoring victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

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