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UN urges India, Pakistan to take immediate steps to defuse tensions

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UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called on India and Pakistan to take immediate steps to defuse tensions and offered to help broker a solution if both sides agree to UN mediation.

The two countries have been locked in a diplomatic clash following a suicide attack on Feb 14 in Kashmir that killed 40 Indian security personnel, triggering counter-operations by Indian forces in the area.

"We are deeply concerned at the increasing tensions between the two countries," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Mr Guterres "stresses the importance of both sides to exercise maximum restraint and take immediate steps" to de-escalate, while also offering to mediate "should both sides ask", said Mr Dujarric.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi appealed to Mr Guterres to step in to defuse tensions, in a letter seen by AFP.

"It is imperative to take steps for de-escalation. The United Nations must step in to defuse tensions," said the letter sent on Monday.

The attack was claimed by Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), but the Foreign Minister said "attributing it to Pakistan even before investigations is absurd".

In response to the rising tensions, France was considering a new push at the Security Council to place Masood Azhar, the leader of JeM, on the UN terror list but faced opposition from China, diplomats said.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim the former Himalayan kingdom in full and have fought two wars over it.

India has long accused Pakistan of harbouring militants who launch attacks on its soil. - AFP