May 1999 News

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Shelling continues, Kargil toll believed around 50

14 May 1999
News Agencies

Even as the Defence authorities at Kargil, Leh, Srinagar and Jammu have been asked by the Army headquarters at New Delhi not to make any statements, officials at the Union capital today confirmed the death of 15 "militants", 7 Army personnel and one civilian. The official electronic media reported that a spokesman had alleged that Pakistan was attempting to push in mercenaries through Kargil borders.

However, well-placed sources believed to be in knowledge of things, insisted to EXCELSIOR that at least 50 casualties had taken place during the last three days of the intensified clash. Over a dozen injured troopers had been admitted at two Army hospitals at Kargil and here. Army helicopters continued their movement in Kargil and other stations. Sources said that Pakistani troops fired scores of artillery shells at several places upto Drass and the combing operation had now stretched upto 80 sq kms.

Civilian population has been evacuated from over a dozen border villages and Drass-Kargil patch of the highway has been closed for non-Army vehicular traffic. Shells have hit close to the highway at three points but failed to cut off the major communication link between Ladakh and the Valley.

As for the two Indian pickets captured by the "enemy", sources said that these posts had been captured by Indian troops during the Indo-Pak war of December 1971. However, the important question was: Have Pakistani troops pushed in a thick group of mercenaries ahead of a combat operation, or have they launched the offensive in civvies or, more significantly, were both of them involved in the operation.

PTI adds from New Delhi: A heavily-armed posse of Pakistan-backed militants, mostly Pakhtoons, have been engaging Indian troops in the Kargil sector of Jammu and Kashmir since Tuesday under cover of Pakistani artillery fire, according to official reports here today.

Official sources quoting reports from Field Intelligence Units (FIUs) in the Kargil area said this was possibly one of the largest counter-insurgency operations of the Army during the past decade in the sensitive Northern border state.

The Indian Army has launched a tactical operation by cordoning off villages and inhabited areas near the Line of Control (LoC) and is retaliating fire by the infiltrators, dressed as local shepherds, they said.

The heavy encounter has been taking place between the militants and 121 infantry brigade of the Army, sources said quoting officers in 15th corps of the Army based in Srinagar and maintained that Kargil town was safe. The region has been facing Pakistani artillery and mortar fire since Sunday.

Home Ministry sources here said the general pattern of infiltration backed by firing by regular Pakistani Army has been always witnessed in the past, particularly when snow started melting in the higher reaches and mountain passes.

They said the militants had now decided to use difficult terrains to cross over into India as the traditional routes had been effectively blocked by the Army operations. These included a pass in Gurez sector, Sadnar Pass and some others in Kargil and Drass regions of north Kashmir.

There has been no let up in Pakistani firing in this sector in the Kargil region of Ladakh in the last six days in which an Army porter was killed and three civilians wounded on Tuesday.

Pakistan Army had yesterday heavily shelled Kargil sector with artillery guns hitting certain populated areas. The Indian Army gave a befitting reply to the shelling using various types of artillery guns, reports from the corps headquarters in Srinagar said.

There was no confirmed report of any Army casualty in the shelling, which is the first incident this year involving artillery by the two sides.

Army sources categorically denied reports that an Indian post had been captured by Pakistani troops in Kargil while admitting that an ammunition dump was partially hit at Kargil cantonment on Tuesday in the exchange of fire.

Kargil town and villages in its periphery have borne the brunt of the indiscriminate Pakistani mortar and artillery fire which has forced a large number of residents to migrate to safer areas abandoning their homes, the sources said.

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