SIALKOT, Pakistan/JAMMU, India - Indian and Pakistani troops traded heavy fire on Wednesday after their leaders failed at an Asian security summit to ease fears of war between the nuclear-armed rivals.
An Indian defense official said the two armies traded fire from armored vehicles across their border in Kashmir, the first such exchange in their tense frontier standoff.
"Pakistani troops started armored fire in the R.S. Pora sector which was responded to in equal measure," an Indian defense official told Reuters. There were no reports of casualties.
"This is the first time in recent skirmishes armored fire has been used," he said, adding there were no details of the type of vehicles or caliber of weapons involved.
He said troops also traded heavy mortar and artillery fire in the Naushera sector. There was no immediate comment available from Pakistani officials.
Elsewhere in the Jammu region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Indian police said six Muslim militants were killed in a gunbattle with security forces in Poonch district.
Pakistan government officials said two people were wounded on Wednesday morning near Sialkot on the boundary separating Indian-ruled Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan's Punjab province.
That area on the Punjab plains has been especially hard hit in the recent bout of shelling.
AIR RAID DRILLS
Witnesses said Indian and Pakistani troops were exchanging heavy mortar and machinegun fire along the boundary, causing people in the area to flee to relief centers set up by the government in the nearby city of Sialkot.
"There are no casualties, but our houses are being destroyed," a resident of Pondran village said. "Many houses, stored with large quantities of hay after the recent wheat harvest, caught fire in our village when hit by Indian mortar bombs overnight."
The Civil Defense Department has been organizing air raid drills in Punjab towns this week, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. The city public works department in Multan has been ordered to dig trenches to shelter people.
In Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, police said Indian troops intensified mortar fire in the Samani sector on Wednesday morning, but there were no reports of any casualties or damage.
The two countries, who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 -- two of them over Kashmir -- have exchanged fire regularly since December, when an attack on India's parliament triggered a massive military build-up.
India blamed Pakistani-based militants for that attack and another on an Indian army camp in Jammu and Kashmir last month that killed 34 people, including women, children and the attackers themselves.
Pakistan says more than 80 people have been killed, several hundred wounded and hundreds of others displaced in the shelling along the frontier since the mid-May attack on the army camp.
The fledgling nuclear powers have massed a million troops on their border, backed by tanks, missiles and artillery.
Fears that millions could be killed in the world's first atomic war have prompted world leaders to step up diplomatic pressure to pull the rivals back from the brink.
Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd