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May 28, 1999


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4 IAF men die as Pak shoots down helicopter

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Amberish K Diwanji, George Iype in New Delhi

Map of Jammu and Kashmir An Indian Air Force Mi-17 helicopter has been shot down on the Indian side of the Line of Control.

The defence ministry said the helicopter's four-member crew including two pilots has perished.

The helicopter came under fire six to seven kilometres north of Drass in Indian territory this morning.

An IAF spokesman said the helicopter was taking part in the operations against Pakistan-supported infiltrators in the Kargil sector.

Meanwhile, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force today said they had made substantial gains in the joint operations in the Kargil sector and claimed that the area occupied by the intruders was rapidly shrinking following effective air strikes and artillery fire.

Air strikes were carried out successfully for the third consecutive day this morning on the entrenched positions of the infiltrators, mainly Pakistan army regulars and Afghan militants, in the icy heights of the Drass and Batalik sub-sectors.

''Our ground troops are squeezing them... The army is holding ridge lines in many areas, which were the sustenance routes of the intruders,'' Major General Joginder Jaswant Singh, additional director general of military operations, said during the morning briefing.

He said that as per the army's information, the militants are weakening with supplies running low and medical aid unavailable.

"At such heights, of 15,000 feet and more, no man can survive more than 24 hours unless he has the required equipment and food supplies. Our air strikes and constant artillery firing has weakened the enemy's supply lines and our information indicates that their morale is running low," he said.

However, he refused to give a time-frame within which the enemy would be flushed out.

Air Vice Marshal S K Malik said, "By now, we have identified most of the enemy encampments and heights held by them and our objective of striking them is having the desired effect. The operations will continue till our objectives of capturing all the enemy-held territory is met."

The army is targeting the Drass sector the most, since it is considered the most important. Besides capturing one post, another key height has been completely encircled by the Indian Army and should fall into Indian hands soon.

The army today said it had lost 24 soldiers since the operations against the intruders began on May 8. As many as 131 were injured, of whom 45 were serious.

Of the 14 reported missing, the list is down to 12 with two having been discovered dead.

Again, the unofficial count is much higher, closer to three figures.

Regarding the militants' toll, the army said they had no further information yet and the figure stood at '162 believed killed'.

The IAF today said that two Indian aircraft flying on the Indian side of the Line of Control were fired at, from across the border.

The IAF also stated that the weapons used to fire at the Indian fighter jets were not with the infiltrators.

The IAF further reiterated that all operations carried out by the IAF had been on the Indian side of the LoC.

The armed forces have also rejected Pakistan's claim that India was behaving aggressively.

Islamabad has also said that India was preparing for military action against Pakistan in the guise of flushing out militants. "The charge is baseless. Which country will allow militants to capture its land and hold on to it? Not one country anywhere in the world," Brigadier Singh said.

As for the two missing MiG pilots, Air Vice Marshal Malik read out their radio messages to prove that they were well within the Line of Control when one of the warplanes, a MiG-21, was shot down by a Pakistani missile yesterday.

Regarding Pakistani claims that one of the pilots was in their custody and the other dead, he said the IAF was ''treating them as missing in action''. If the Pakistani claims were right, then India would demand that the pilot be handed over as it was not a war situation.

General Singh said it had been conveyed to Pakistan that the missing Indian soldiers or airmen should be given the treatment that is due to them under the Geneva convention as they were in uniform and operating in their part of the country.

He said a clear message had been sent to Pakistan that they could not talk of friendly ties on the one hand and then give military support to infiltration in India.

The position of the infiltrators 'was weakening', IAF and Indian Army sources said.

This morning the air attacks were carried out after daybreak. But the spokesman denied that the state-of-the-art Sukhoi-30s had been deployed in the Kargil sector as was being reported.

During the last three days, three Indian soldiers had been killed and seven injured.

Defence officials said more than 160 infiltrators had been killed.

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.

The army is still not stating whether it plans to station troops permanently on top of various peaks, a la Siachen Glacier, which is manned throughout the year, at a great cost.

"Any such decision will be taken when necessary. But our present action clearly indicates that should any territory of ours be taken over by anybody else, we will use all means at our disposal to teach the enemy a lesson. After the current operation, I doubt if anyone else will even think of taking over our territory and holding on to it,'' said Brigadier Singh.

"If every time they capture our territory and end up losing around 200 out of 600 men in the bargain, I don't think they will be able to even try the same tactic again. It is too expensive for them," he said.

He added that the army suspected that Pakistan might seek to sneak in infiltrators in other areas but such attempts would be thwarted.

He also reiterated that Pakistan was providing more than just moral and political support to the militants. "Islamabad is giving military support. Otherwise it is impossible for anyone to capture and hold such territory," he said.

The military operations additional director general said Pakistan foreign spokesman Tariq Altaf was carrying out a propaganda branding India as the aggressor but this facade had been taken off by none other than the United States which has commented that the Indian operations were in its part of the LoC.

In another development, Defence Minister George Fernandes today briefed the Union Cabinet on the recent developments in the Kargil sector.

The meeting, which was chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, also discussed the strategy adopted by the Indian forces for carrying out the operation. Vajpayee has called an all-party meeting tomorrow to discuss the crisis.

India has no intention of escalating tension and its only aim was to eject the Pakistan-supported infiltrators in the Kargil sector, principal secretary to prime minister, Brajesh Mishra said in a television interview.

Major political parties have supported the government action in Kargil but advised it to activate its diplomatic channels to defuse the tensions.

Additional reportage: UNI


US summons Indian, Pak envoys
PM to meet leaders over Kargil
Two aircraft shot down; India won't attack Pak positions
'An unprovoked act of hostility'
Tensions likely to subside, says defence ministry
IAF launches another round of air strikes
India, Pak will not go to war: Abdullah
Crisis will be defused, says expert
Pak gambled and lost, says former air chief
Cautious in peace, intrepid in battle
Pak calls for UN intervention
'Troops will advance only after the infiltrators are neutralised'
Kargil 'quiet', people scramble for essentials
Mingi awaits retaliation with fear
'The present government does not have adequate courage for action across the LoC'
US urges restraint over Kashmir

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