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Pakistan Says Will Release 360 Indians Held For Illegal Fishing, Seeks Reciprocation

Indian fishermen from a previous round of detentions stand behind bars in Karachi, Pakistan.
Indian fishermen from a previous round of detentions stand behind bars in Karachi, Pakistan.

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry says the country will release 360 Indian prisoners who have been detained for fishing illegally in its territorial waters in the Arabian Sea.

The move announced on April 5 is seen by many experts as an effort to ease tensions between the nuclear rivals after a dangerous confrontation in February that led to armed conflict.

Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal told reporters that the Indian prisoners will be released in four batches starting in the next few days.

“Pakistan has decided that 360 Indian prisoners – 355 fishermen and five civilians -- who have completed their term of sentence, will be released," Faisal said.

“We hope that India will reciprocate this,” he added.

Records exchanged between the two countries show there are 347 Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails, 249 of whom are what the spokesman described as civilians and 98 fishermen.

Pakistan and India, longtime bitter regional rivals, regularly arrest members of fishing-boat crews from the other country in the Arabian Sea, which does not have a clearly defined maritime border.

They often remain in prison for long periods until being released during goodwill gestures.

Still, tensions remain between Islamabad and New Delhi. Hours after the release announcement, Pakistan's military accused India of "unprovoked" firing in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, wounding six people, including four children.

On April 1, Pakistani and Indian soldiers also traded fire in Kashmir, leaving seven Pakistanis and three Indians dead. Both sides blamed each other for initiating gunfire in the region, which is split between them and claimed by both in its entirety

Those casualties came weeks after tensions flared between two nations after a February suicide bombing killed 40 Indian troops in Indian-administered Kashmir.

That led to India launching an air strike inside Pakistan, where it said it was targeting militants responsible for the bombing.

Pakistan then shot down two Indian jet fighters.

The two neighbors have a history of bitter relations since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

The rivals have fought three wars, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, where the two sides still regularly exchange fire.

Meanwhile, a U.S. magazine cast doubt on India's claim that it shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter jet during an aerial dogfight in February.

Foreign Policy magazine, citing two senior U.S. officials, said U.S. personnel conducted a count of Pakistan's F-16s and found none missing.

The magazine quoted one of the officials as saying Pakistan had invited U.S. officials to physically count its F-16 fleet.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters