SRINAGAR, India (AP) — India’s army says five of its soldiers were killed and another wounded when Pakistani troops fired at a patrol near the cease-fire line in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir on Tuesday. The incident could threaten recent overtures aimed at resuming peace talks between the nuclear-armed rivals.
The military called the attack a “gross violation” of a 2003 cease-fire in Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Lt. Col. Rajesh Kalia, an Indian army spokesman, said about 20 “heavily armed terrorists along with soldiers” of the Pakistan army ambushed an Indian army patrol in the Poonch sector, 180 kilometers (110 miles) southwest of Srinagar, the main city in the Himalayan region.
Kalia said Pakistan had violated the cease-fire 57 times this year, nearly twice as often compared with last year.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied that its soldiers killed any Indian troops. A statement from the ministry’s spokesman said that Pakistan was committed to the cease-fire agreement of 2003, adding that “such ill-founded reports” that have the potential of harming relations should be avoided.
The statement said Pakistan “looks forward to an early resumption of the dialogue process” with India.
Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been indicating he is open to restarting peace talks.
While the cease-fire has largely held for the last decade, such sporadic violations are not uncommon. Each accuses the other of initiating the fighting by firing mortars or gunshots across the line of control.
The two countries have fought three major wars since they achieved independence from British India in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by both but divided between them.
Omar Abdullah, the top elected official of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state, said in a tweet that such violent incidents “don’t help efforts to normalize or even improve relations” and may even put the recent Pakistan peace overtures into question.
India’s Defense Minister A.K. Antony told Parliament that India’s army was “fully ready” to take the steps it needed to protect the Indian part of the Kashmir region. He said his government had lodged a formal complaint with Pakistan through diplomatic channels.
While the countries remain rivals, relations between them have improved dramatically since the most recent low point in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai siege, in which 10 Pakistani gunmen killed 166 people and forced the shut down the city for days. India says the terrorists had ties to Pakistani intelligence officials — an accusation Islamabad denies.
Signs of their improving ties include new visa rules announced last December designed to make cross-border travel easier. The countries have also taken steps to improve cross-border trade.