Tension rises in Kashmir as Pakistan says soldier killed

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistan's military said on Wednesday that "unprovoked" firing by Indian troops had killed one of its soldiers across the border in Kashmir, adding to escalating tensions over the disputed territory.

In a statement in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the Pakistani army said that one of its soldiers had "embraced martyrdom due to unprovoked Indian firing" at the Line of Control (LoC) - the de facto military border in divided Kashmir.

The latest attack took place on Tuesday night, according to the army statement, and is the fourth deadly incident reported this month.

Mr Sardar Mushtaq, a local government official in Pakistani Kashmir's Hajira district, told AFP that Indian troops were firing at Pakistani villages "intermittently".

Reports of the Pakistani soldier's death came a day after India's prime minister said there could be no "business as usual" with Pakistan.

While diplomats have warned against allowing the recent cross-border killings to wreck a fragile peace process, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the beheading of an Indian soldier "unacceptable".

The comments were his first public reaction to the attack, which has caused outrage in the army's ranks.

"Those responsible for this crime will have to be brought to book," the premier added on the sidelines of an army function in New Delhi.

India says two of its soldiers were killed by the Pakistani army on Jan 8, one of whom was decapitated and whose head is still missing.

Pakistan denies that its forces were responsible for the killings and says that three of its own soldiers have died as a result of Indian firing in the last 10 days along the LoC, where a ceasefire has been in place since 2003.

Mr Mushtaq said that two Pakistani civilians had also been wounded in cross-border shelling this week and that Indian troops had fired at a Pakistani boat late Tuesday.

After a total break in ties following the 2008 shooting and bomb attacks on Mumbai, which India blamed on Pakistan-based militants, relations had been slowly improving.

But since the spate of deadly exchanges erupted on Jan 6 along the militarised border, they have soured again.

On Tuesday, India was to begin allowing Pakistanis over the age of 65 to obtain a visa on arrival at the border in Punjab.

However, the programme was put on hold until further notice only hours after Indian officials said it had come into force, although the delay was attributed to "technical" reasons.

The visa deal was sealed last month when the interior ministers from both countries met in New Delhi.

Nine Pakistani players were also withdrawn from a new field hockey league in India and asked to return home just before Singh's comments.

Media reports on Tuesday said the women's cricket World Cup, scheduled to be played in Mumbai from Jan 31 to Feb 17, could be affected due to Pakistan's participation.