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May 28, 1999
Army recaptures key heights, squeezes infiltrators
India today charged Pakistan with escalating the conflict in the barren heights of the Kargil sector where a Mi-17 helicopter gunship was shot down by a Stinger missile fired by infiltrators, killing all four crew.
But waves of air attacks through the day, backed by heavy artillery fire, saw the Indian Army and Air Force recapture some key heights and rapidly shrink the areas occupied by the Pakistan-backed mercenaries whose supply lines were getting choked off.
"Pakistan is provoking us to escalate the conflict. We will exercise restraint, but we will be reviewing some of our options to evict these infiltrators from our territory," Air Vice-Marshal S K Malik, additional assistant chief of the air staff (operations), said.
The action will, however, continue to be within the Indian side of the Line of Control.
After the Union Cabinet and the Cabinet Committee on Security met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an external affairs ministry spokesman charged Pakistan with violating the Simla Agreement by sending its soldiers across the LoC.
India, he said, is ready to engage in a dialogue with Islamabad to build peaceful, friendly and co-operative relations.
"The door for dialogue is always open... But this particular act of Pakistan is totally unacceptable and we will deal with it firmly."
Operation Vijay, he said, would continue till all the intruders were thrown out of Kargil.
India also formally asked Pakistan to hand over Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa and the body of Squadron Leader A Ahuja, the pilots of the two MiG fighters that were lost yesterday.
Pakistani Deputy High Commissioner Khalid Khan Khattak was summoned to the foreign office this afternoon where he was handed a note containing the request.
Defence Minister George Fernandes briefed the Cabinet on the developments. The meeting also discussed strategy.
Briefing the press, Fernandes said the government feels the Pakistani armed forces were behind the infiltration in which the Pakistani government and the Inter-Services Intelligence had no hand.
The CCS held its fourth meeting in five days to review the situation. Besides Vajpayee, the ministers for defence, home and finance, the three service chiefs, and the principal secretary to the prime minister were present.
Vajpayee has convened an all-party meeting tomorrow at 1100 IST to discuss the situation. The meeting, official sources said, has been convened on the advice of President K R Narayanan.
Political parties, meanwhile, urged the government to take firm steps to clear the infiltrators. A four-member Congress delegation met the President and expressed serious concern at the developments in Kargil.
Maj Gen J J Singh, additional director-general of military operations, said more than 200 of the infiltrators had been killed and many more had been injured in the operations. On the Indian side, 24 soldiers had been killed, 131 injured and 11 were missing.
The Mi-17 helicopter gunship, taking part in the flushing out operations, was seen crashing by other mission aircraft, 7-8km north of Drass, inside the LoC.
Yesterday, the Pakistani Army from across the LoC had brought down a MiG-21 fighter plane that had gone to the aid of a MiG-27 that developed engine failure.
AVM Malik said successful air attacks were carried out today in the Drass sector. An important feature called Tololing, along the ridge line where Pakistani soldiers were stiffly resisting the Indian forces, was effectively attacked and cleared. Pilots reported that the tents, bunkers and stores of the infiltrators were destroyed in the attack.
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