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July 16, 1999

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Mushkoh still in Pakistani hands

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Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi

The Pakistani intruders continued withdrawing from the Indian side of the Line of Control in Kargil sector.

On Thursday, the Pakistani director general of military operations had called up his Indian counterpart in New Delhi to seek more time to complete the withdrawal. The Indian armed forces had given them 24 hours, and the deadline now stands at July 17, first light.

The army did not rule out a further extension. "These extensions are only for operational reasons and not a slackening of our will to fight. To go back across the difficult mountainous terrain does take time and hence, if the Pakistani DGMO does request another extension, it may be considered by our side," said army spokesman Colonel Bikram Singh.

The Indian army appears satisfied with the steady withdrawal. Troops have already occupied commanding heights in Kaksar, Batalik and Drass sectors.

In the last sector, while no activity was reported from Point 5100, which is still in Pakistani hands, personnel with loads were seen moving out of Point 5060, the other height held by Pakistanis.

Besides these two heights and the Muskhoh valley, the Indian soldiers are now in command up to the Line of Control. They are still some distance away from Mushkoh. This is due to operational reasons. First, military operations to flush out Pakistani soldiers in the sector began later than in the other sectors and, hence, the intruders came in comparatively deeper there.

Also, in giving sector-wise deadline to the Pakistanis, Mushkoh (and not Batalik as earlier reported) was the last. "Our observation is seeing the Pakistani troops withdrawing and hence, we are not overly concerned if they do take a bit more time. Yet, the tight deadline means the Pakistani soldiers are unable to take back their heavy weapons that they had brought with them," said Colonel Singh.

The Indian army, meanwhile, recovered the bodies of Lieutenant K Bhattacharya and Sepoy Major Singh of the 8 Sikh Regiment. They had been missing during an encounter on May 21 in the area of Tiger Hills.

Colonel Singh confirmed the Pakistani claim that in two stretches the Srinagar-Kargil-Leh highway is susceptible to artillery fire from across. "One stretch, called Twin Bumps and which is about six kilometres long, is northwest of Drass while the other, 100 metres long, is in the Batalik sector. In both these stretches, the Indian army has taken adequate precautions, including building a high wall to minimise any threat to the highway," he said.

The Air Force continued with reconnaissance missions, and was keeping the retreating Pakistani soldiers under watch. Both photographic and visual evidence provided by the IAF confirmed the army's view that the Pakistani soldiers were on their way back.

Incidentally, the controversy over the dead bodies continues. In the Batalik and Drass sectors, Indian forces have recovered 249 bodies. Three of these were handed back on June 5, while two bodies are awaiting collection in New Delhi. Out of the 249, 197 have been buried as per military custom and with the requisite religious rites. Also, 47 bodies were found abandoned in shallow pits, which have also been duly buried.

Regarding the two bodies now in Delhi, this morning Pakistan conveyed through the International Council for the Red Cross that one of the bodies might be that of a Pakistani officer, Captain Karnal Sher Khan, and asked that the body be sent to Islamabad for verification. India has insisted that Pakistan send its officials, along with the relatives of the family of the deceased, to New Delhi. There has been no response from Pakistan yet. Pakistan has disclaimed the other body.

"The only motive of Pakistan in not claiming the bodies of its own soldiers is to keep up the fašade of the intruders being Mujahideen and Kashmiri militants rather than its own soldiers. Yet, we have identifed these bodies by way of documents and letters found on their person, all of which clearly give their names and often the ranks," pointed out the ministry of external affairs spokesperson R S Jassal.

Meanwhile, the ministry of defence has set up a fast track procedure for speedy payment of ex gratia compensation to the widow and next of kin of the soldiers killed in action. The controller general of defence accounts has been told to settle all accounts within 48 hours of receiving the claims from army authorities.

The government has also hiked the ex gratia payment from Rs 200,000 to 750,000, besides giving a pension to the widows or relative, which will be as per the last salary drawn by the deceased soldier. The government also promised to build widow hostels across the countries and help them find jobs.

The government has also stated that it will bear all expenses for rehabilitation of the injured, including treatment in any part of India or abroad. Those who have lost their limbs (often because of anti-personnel land mines) will be given artificial limbs, and provided special vehicles for personal use.

The Kargil Crisis

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