ISLAMABAD The Pakistani army said two of its soldiers were killed on Thursday in "unprovoked" Indian fire along the border dividing Kashmir, and Islamabad summoned the Indian envoy to protest at the second such incident in two days.
A series of clashes that began this month has undermined a push by Pakistan's new civilian government to improve ties with old rival India. Lodging a protest with the Indian envoy appeared to mark a diplomatic escalation, but Pakistani officials say they still hope to hold talks.
A security official said one soldier was killed near Rawalakot in the Poonch district, about 130 kms from the capital, Islamabad, "due to unprovoked Indian firing".
A second soldier was killed later in the day and two others were wounded 45 kms away in Hotspring in the Tatta Pani area further south. India said it came under automatic weapons fire in roughly the same area in the evening and reported "effective retaliation" by its own soldiers, but made no mention of casualties.
Another Pakistani soldier had been killed on Wednesday.
The violence came two weeks after the killing of five Indian soldiers along the so-called Line of Control (LoC) that separates the two sides in the Himalayan region.
India said the five were killed by Pakistani forces and said it had given its army a free hand to respond. Pakistan denied involvement and the government has issued a series of conciliatory statements despite constant tit-for-tat firing since.
"Pakistan will also continue to seek dialogue and resolution of all outstanding issues with India peacefully," the Pakistani government said in a statement on Thursday.
"The ceasefire should be maintained in letter and spirit. All military and diplomatic channels should be used to prevent ceasefire violations," it added.
A later statement said Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani called the Indian High Commissioner T.C.A Raghavan to the foreign office in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad to express "serious concern over the continued and unwarranted ceasefire violations." Previous complaints by both sides have been made at a lower level in the diplomatic hierarchy.
The nuclear-armed rivals have fought three wars since 1947, two of them over Kashmir. Both control a part of the Muslim-majority region but claim it in full.
A truce along their Kashmir border has held for nearly a decade, even though it has been broken every now and then by tit-for-tat artillery fire and an occasional cross-border ambush.
India has faced an insurgency in its part of Kashmir since 1989 and has long accused Pakistan of supporting the militants fighting Indian rule.
Pakistan denies arming the militants, saying it only offers moral support to the Muslim people of Kashmir, who are living under what Pakistan characterizes as harsh Indian rule.
Nevertheless, despite Pakistan's denials that it helps the militants, fighters have for years slipped from the Pakistani side of Kashmir into the Indian side to battle Indian forces.
India says this year it has seen a spike in attempts by militants to infiltrate into its part of Kashmir.
Many analysts expect the trend to continue as the two countries jostle for influence in Afghanistan, from which a NATO force is preparing to withdraw by the end of 2014.
Each nation fears the other is trying to install a proxy government in Kabul.
(Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Additioanl reporting by Ashok Pahalwan; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)