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May 27, 1999


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Two aircraft shot down; India won't attack Pak positions

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Amberish K Diwanji, George Iype, UNI

The defence ministry in Delhi confirmed this evening that Pakistan had shot down two Indian aircraft. Pakistan had claimed earlier that the aircraft violated its "territorial integrity."

Air Vice Marshal S K Malik, additional assistant chief of air staff (operations), told reporters in Delhi that the incident occurred when an MiG-21 lost height as a result of mechanical problems. The aircraft's pilot ejected before it crashed.

When a MiG-27 jet went in search of the pilot, the AVM said, the aircraft was fired upon from the Pakistan side of the Line of Control. It is believed the MiG-27 pilot also ejected before his aircraft went into a tailspin. The whereabouts of the pilots or the location of the debris is not known.

The MiG-27 could have crashed across the LoC as it was flying very close to it, he added. ''It was a hostile and provocative act. The other side has escalated the situation,'' AVM Malik said.

Senior air force and army officials said the air attacks on the infiltrators in the sector would continue, but India had no intention of targeting positions across the LoC following the developments.

AVM Malik said the IAF would take extra precautions to guard its aircraft against missile attacks and also make some changes in strategy. ''We will apply tactics,'' he said when asked what the IAF's next move would be.

"The air strikes are going to continue,'' he emphasised.

Brigadier Mohan Bhandari, the additional director general of military operations, said during the last 48 hours, three Indian soldiers had been killed and seven injured taking the toll in the operations since May 8 to 20 dead. He said the deaths among the intruders had exceeded more than 160.

The brigadier said according to ground reports, the intruders had been completely dislodged from two important heights in the Drass sector. The infiltration routes had been cut off using artillery fire.

In Batalik, the administrative camp of the intruders had been effectively engaged with air strikes and artillery and one height had been cleared, he added.

Pre dawn attacks were carried out today on the icy positions of the infiltrators in Drass, Batalik and Mashkoh sectors and ground reports said the strikes were effective. No bombs were used in the attacks yesterday and today, the defence ministry said, countering Pakistan's claims that aircraft had 'bombed' its territory.

The pre-dawn air attacks were conducted in the general area of Drass, Kargil and Batalik and there was no question of the aircraft going anywhere near the Line of Control, Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani, director of offensive operations at air headquarters, said at a briefing.

''Since no bombs were used, there is absolutely no chance of any having dropped in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The Pakistani allegations in this regard are absolutely baseless,'' he said.

Air Cmde Bhojwani and Major General J J Singh, additional director general of military operations, said the attacks achieved considerable success and were effective.

Brigadier Bhandari said the infiltrators were getting heavy artillery support from Pakistan. ''There is no let up from their side on targeting of civilian areas in Dras and Kargil,'' he said.

Pakistan's Special Security Guard were pushing in supplies to the beleaguered intruders, most of whom were Pakistani soldiers in disguise and Afghan mercenaries. He said intelligence reports indicated that 400 intruders were standing by at Gilgit to infiltrate and assist those already camped in India.

The use of special troops, likelihood of the introduction of electronic counter measure aircraft and other manifestations were sufficient proof of the Pakistan army's involvement. Brigadier Bhandari said Pakistan's claim of grabbing an Indian post in Nubra 'was a figment of their imagination'.

Earlier, Pakistan warned this morning that Indian jets would be shot down if they strayed across the disputed Kashmir border.

The Pakistan army also claimed, ''India suffered heavy casualties and were repulsed when they attacked Pakistani military outposts on the border''.

''The way things are escalating now and if bombs continue to fall inside Pakistan on our side of the Line of Control, we reserve the right to use our anti-aircraft weapons,'' army spokesman, Brigadier Rashid Quereshi told Associated Press.

''In this area in the last two days the Indians have really stepped up activity. They have tried in some cases to attack our posts,'' said Brigadier Quereshi.

''They have been repulsed and they suffered heavy casualties... It seems there is an effort to occupy positions on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control,'' he said.

India has said that Pakistani soldiers were among the infiltrators.

Brigadier Quereshi said the allegation was 'absolutely nonsense' and that Pakistani politicians had called for independent observers to conduct an investigation in this regard.

Shortly after dawn today, he said, ''Indian fighter jets screamed in low, weaving through the mountain peaks dropping bombs very close to the border, but inside Indian territory''.

Since the Indian crackdown began yesterday, the artillery duels between Indian and Pakistani troops have been ferocious, he said.

While Indian troops say they are moving in to outflank militants, Brigadier Quereshi said Pakistani soldiers fear they might be trying to annex Pakistani territory.

''The Indians are saying they are trying to outflank or surround the militants. In the process they came on the Line of Control and that is when the Pakistani troops fired,'' he said. ''That is when they (Indian troops) suffered the most casualties.''

So far, he said, Pakistan has been showing restraint.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz urged India to stop the escalation of fighting in the area and honour the Lahore Declaration.

In that document the two neighbours promised to try to settle their differences through negotiations.

Brigadier Quereshi warned, ''Pakistan's patience is limited. I fear that patience is going to run low after some time. There is a limit to the amount of restraint one can exercise... If they continue to escalate the way they are doing... they will suffer very, very badly.''

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