Pakistan releases Indian fishermen despite tension

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan has released nearly 340 Indian fishermen from prison despite recent tension caused by deadly violence along the disputed Kashmir border, a prison official said Saturday.

Pakistan and India regularly release fishermen who are detained after straying into each other’s territorial waters. But tension is particularly high right now between the nuclear-armed rivals, who have fought three major wars since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

The two sides have repeatedly accused each other of violating a cease-fire along the Kashmir border in recent weeks. Five Indian soldiers have been reported killed, along with three Pakistani troops and a pair of Pakistani civilians.

The most recent deaths came Thursday, when the Pakistani military accused Indian troops of carrying out “unprovoked” firing across the border and killing two Pakistani soldiers. A third Pakistani soldier was killed Tuesday night.

In each case, the Indian army said its troops only responded after receiving fire from the Pakistani side.

Pakistani authorities released 337 Indian fishermen from jails in the southern port city of Karachi on Friday, said prison official Shuja Haider Mirza. They boarded buses for the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore and are scheduled to be handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah border on Saturday.

Mohammad Rafique, an Indian fisherman who had been in prison for over six months, criticized Pakistan for arresting him.

“There are no lines, signs or signals for borders which cross the water. As a result we drift from one side to the other,” said Rafique as he was being released. “Indian coast guards and the Pakistan navy should question us on the spot and should pardon and release us after issuing a warning. We are paying heavily for a small mistake.”

Following the release, 97 Indian fishermen remain in jails in Karachi, said Mirza, the prison official.

India’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, said India has far fewer Pakistani prisoners and has no imminent plans to release any.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed hope that the recent violence on the Kashmir border wouldn’t derail efforts to improve relations between the two countries. He is especially keen to increase cross-border trade to jumpstart Pakistan’s economy.

But his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, has said relations can only improve once Pakistan cracks down on militants accused on staging attacks in India. The most recent violence started over two weeks ago when Indian authorities said Pakistani militants and soldiers crossed the Kashmir border and killed five Pakistani troops.

Pakistan has denied its soldiers killed any Indian troops.

Kashmir is divided between Pakistan and India but claimed in its entirety by both.

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Associated Press writer Nirmala George contributed to this report from New Delhi.

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