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May 27, 1999

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'Ground troops will advance only after the infiltrators are neutralised'

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar

Roaring jets and helicopter gunships woke Kashmiris up this morning, as the Indian Air Force carried out more air strikes in the Drass, Kargil and Batalik ridges on Thursday morning.

The first sorties on the second day of the air strikes took off at around 0500 hours. Defence sources here said that heavy casualties have been inflicted on the militants. Over 120 of them have been reported killed.

Army officers said the air strikes will continue in view of the tough terrain. "Ground troops will advance only after the positions held by the infiltrators are neutralised. It is very difficult to move soldiers to those high mountain ridges otherwise," one army officer said, adding that more strikes will be conducted by IAF aircraft later today.

Pakistan artillery shells hit Kargil this morning. However, no one was injured. Sources said till late on Wednesday the Drass-Kargil highway was attacked by Pakistani artillery. Scores of shells hit the important highway. Three soldiers were reported injured after an army vehicle was hit by splinters near Drass.

Sources said last evening's shelling on the highway was the heaviest in the past three weeks.

Drass was targetted again this morning. Shells hit the deserted town immediately after IAF fighter jets and helicopter gunships attacked the insurgents. The army returned the artillery fire, military sources added.

The Kashmir valley was normal on Thursday morning. The panic among residents, which was palpable yesterday, had subsided this morning. "I donít there will be war," said Bashir Ahmad, one resident.

There was good news for Kargil residents who began returning home this morning. Twentynine trucks of essential commodities including fresh vegetables, oil, sugar and other commodities reached the town. There was a scramble for supplies in the market which opened for the first time in a fortnight.

The town had faced an acute shortage of essential commodities after winter stocks vanished from the market after the shelling began. Despite their best efforts the administration could not rush supplies for "security reasons." The residents migrated from Drass and Kargil early this month following shelling on the town which claimed three lives.

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