People pay their last respects Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, in front of the coffin of Indian army soldier Vijay Kumar Rai, allegedly killed by Pakistani soldiers. | AP Photo
NEW DELHI — India’s defense minister directly accused Pakistan on Thursday of killing five Indian soldiers in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and suggested it could hurt peace efforts by the two countries.
Defense Minister A.K. Antony told Parliament that those responsible for the attack Tuesday in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir must be punished.
India’s military earlier said about 20 “heavily armed terrorists along with soldiers” from the Pakistani army crossed the cease-fire line, called the “Line of Control,” dividing Kashmir and ambushed an Indian army patrol.
“It is now clear that the specialist troops of the Pakistan army were involved in this attack,” Antony said. “Naturally, this incident will have consequences on our behavior on the Line of Control and for our relationship with Pakistan.”
Pakistan has denied that its soldiers killed any Indian troops.
A Pakistani military official said Indian troops fired without provocation on Thursday across the cease-fire line in the Tatta Pani sector and severely wounded a civilian. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military policy.
Indian army spokesman S.N. Acharya denied the allegation, saying “There has been no firing in that sector at all.”
The incidents came amid overtures by the two sides aimed at resuming peace talks.
On Thursday, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed concern about the incidents and said both sides should make sure the situation doesn’t escalate.
“It is incumbent upon the leadership of both sides not to allow the situation to drift and to take steps to improve the atmosphere by engaging constructively with a view to building trust and confidence,” Sharif said, according to a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry.
Sharif said he was looking forward to meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York to discuss steps to further build trust between the two sides.
He “reiterated the resolve that Pakistan will persist in its efforts to improve relations with India through a constructive dialogue on all issues,” the ministry said.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the control of Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947. Kashmir is divided between the countries and is claimed by both.