India Declares Kashmir Victory

India's defense minister declared the end of fighting in Kashmir Saturday following the withdrawal of Muslim guerrillas from Himalayan battle zones under an agreement with Pakistan.

Indian troops reclaimed key mountains and advanced to the 1972 cease-fire line with Pakistan in all but one of four battle zones Saturday. The soldiers planned to reoccupy the fourth zone soon. Army planes flew overhead to verify the withdrawal of the last of the guerrillas.

India had given Pakistan a Friday deadline - later extended to early Saturday - for the insurgents to retreat from key peaks they captured in May on India's side of the cease-fire line. Both sides agreed to stop fighting during the withdrawal.

Defense Minister George Fernandes said late Saturday that Indian troops had "successfully evicted all of the intruders."

"It has been a costly victory. Victory at the expense of the blood of our brave jawans (soldiers)," Fernandes said in New Delhi.

The two months of fighting in Kashmir left as many as 1,250 people dead in a conflict that sparked worries of an all-out war between the two South Asian neighbors who tested nuclear weapons last year.

India accused Pakistan of orchestrating the incursion, saying Islamabad sent hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and Afghan mercenaries across the cease-fire line dividing the disputed territory between India and Pakistan.

Pakistan long denied its soldiers crossed the line and said it had no control over the guerrillas, whom it described as indigenous fighters for Kashmir's independence.

However, during the past week Islamabad negotiated a cease-fire and withdrawal from Indian parts of Kashmir.

And on Friday, Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Parvez Musharraf was quoted by British Broadcast Corp. as admitting that his troops had crossed the cease-fire line. Musharraf said in the BBC interview that Pakistani soldiers crossed the line during "aggressive patrolling" aimed at preventing an Indian attack on Pakistan.

The Pakistani Foreign Office in Islamabad denied that report Saturday, saying Musharraf had been misquoted and that soldiers had patrolled at the Line of Control, not across it.

An army spokesman in New Delhi, Col. Bikram Singh, said 410 Indian soldiers, 698 Pakistani soldiers and 150 Muslim guerrillas have been killed in the fighting. The tallies could not immediately be independently verified.

The fighting was the worst between India and Pakistan since their 1971 war. Two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since 1947 have been over Kashmir.