Diplomatic spat between India and Pakistan worsens amid border tensions

November 2, 2016 6:42 AM EDT

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By Syed Raza Hassan and Douglas Busvine

ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Pakistan may expel five Indian diplomats for espionage and has revealed their names, local media said on Wednesday, a move sure to exacerbate a rift between the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors that has been widening for months.

Pakistan declined to comment on the matter ahead of a planned news conference on Thursday, while India said the identity of eight of its diplomats had been revealed by Pakistani media.

Vikas Swarup, spokesman of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, declined to comment when asked whether the eight diplomats stationed in Islamabad would be withdrawn.

Swarup also said six Pakistani diplomats had left the Indian capital on Wednesday but said they had not been expelled.

Last week India ordered one employee of the Pakistani embassy, known as a High Commission, to leave the country on suspicion of espionage, triggering the expulsion of one of its own envoys by Islamabad.

The diplomatic spat comes after months of sharply deteriorating relations that began with civil unrest in Indian-controlled Kashmir and Pakistan's global lobbying against New Delhi's crackdown on the Kashmiri activists.

In September a group of gunmen killed 19 Indian soldiers at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.

India said it had carried out "surgical strikes" inside Pakistan as retribution, but Islamabad denied they even took place and accused New Delhi of fabrication to distract attention from its crackdown on the protests in the part of Kashmir it controls.

Artillery duels and skirmishing along the disputed frontier that runs through Kashmir have escalated in recent days, leading India to summon the Pakistani deputy high commissioner on Wednesday to express its "grave concern and strong protest".

In a statement, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs accused Pakistan of violations of a 2003 ceasefire that have caused several fatalities and injuries among its civilians and security forces.

New Delhi also protested against the alleged mutilation of the body of an Indian soldier by an attacker who escaped across the Line of Control after "committing this heinous crime".

Both sides typically refute the other's version of events. On Wednesday the press wing of the Pakistani military said India had committed 178 ceasesfire violations this year, killing 19 civilians and injuring 80 more.

(Writing by Drazen Jorgic and Douglas Busvine; Editing by Gareth Jones)



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