May 1999 News

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IAF chopper shot down by Pak infiltrators; 4 killed

28 May 1999
News Agencies

An estimated 300 to 400 intruders have so far been killed since the anti-infiltration operation started earlier this month, Brigadier J J Singh told reporters here.

Air Vice Marshal S K Malik said at a special briefing that the US-made ‘Stinger’ missile was shoulder-fired by infiltrators in Tololing area north of Drass around 1100 hours, about seven kilometres within the Indian territory.

An alliance of militants in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) Muttahida Jihad Council claimed responsibility for shooting down the helicopter and later claimed in Muzaffarabad in PoK that it had shot down two helicopters. But an IAF spokesman denied the report of shooting down of a second helicopter.

The MI-17 helicopter was flying at an altitude of 17,000 to 18,000 feet and the names of the four killed including two pilots would be made known only after their families had been informed of the tragedy, Defence Ministry sources said.

Malik said though the Indian Armed Forces would continue to exercise restraint, it might "review some of its options" in evicting the infiltrators in the wake of downing of the aircraft.

Specifically asked what he meant by reviewing options, he said the armed forces would use different kinds of weapons in their arsenal.

"All those options while operating within the Indian territory will be exercised," he said.

Major General J J Singh said there have been Pakistani troop movement across the border particularly along Jammu and Kashmir.

"Keeping this in view, suitable precautionary measures have been taken and appropriate state of alert declared," he said.

Meanwhile, India asked Pakistan to immediately return Flight Lieutenant K Nachiketa whom Islamabad claimed to have captured after his MiG-27 jet crashed as also the body of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja who was killed when his MiG-21 warplane was hit by a Pakistani surface-to-air missile.

Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner Akbar Zeb was summoned to the foreign office here and asked to confirm the veracity of reports about Nachiketa and Ahuja, an External Affairs Ministry spokesman said.

If correct, Pakistan envoy was told to ensure dignified treatment to Nachiketa and his return without loss of time as also handing over of the body of Ahuja.

India accused Pakistan of being habitual offender of the Simla agreement.

As to Islamabad’s claim that the wreckage of the aircraft was found within Pakistani territory, Malik said it was quite possible that a fighter plane operating at a speed of 1,000 km per hour could have crashed in the Pakistan-occupied area after the pilot had baled out.

They have no business to keep any one captured or body of dead pilot. This is not a war. We are operating within our territory, the Air Vice Marshal said.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Singh said Indian troops repulsed an attempt by Pakistan-backed militants to infiltrate into Rajouri sector of J and K.

Stating that there were troop movements by Pakistan, Singh said Indian forces were maintaining an appropriate state of alert and suitable precautionary measures had been instituted.

Even as Indian troops pushed back intruders from Drass, Tololing, Kaksar and Batalik areas in Kargil, Malik said Indian armed forces would continue to exercise restraint but would use different kinds of weapons in their arsenal to evict the infiltrators in the wake of the downing of the aircraft.

The report about shooting of the IAF helicopter today came while Pakistani army in Islamabad said this morning that Indian fighter aircraft had not so far violated the Line of Control nor attacked any Pakistani post.

Asked if India was considering any retaliatory measures following shooting down of its warplane, Malik categorically said we have no intention of crossing the Line of Control (LoC). We will employ tactics to save our planes. At the same time, the Pakistani action is hostile and provocative.

The Cabinet committee on security met here today to review the situation. The hour-long meeting chaired by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was attended among others by Defence Minister George Fernandes and Home Minister L K Advani

Fernandes told newspersons that the present movement of infiltrators had been instigated by the Pakistani army and the Nawaz Sharif Government did not have a major role in it.

The Defence Minister said anti-infiltration operations were being carried out with precision but it was not possible to indicate a time-frame for flushing out the intruders.

Singh said the shooting down of the helicopter by a Stinger missile made it clear that Pakistani army regulars were fully behind the infiltrators. The world needs no further proof of the grand design and preparations of the Pakistani army in encroaching our territory, he said adding the Pakistanis are provoking us to escalate the conflict.

Relentless joint operations to dislodge and evict the intruders in Kargil sector had resulted in substantive gains by the Indian armed forces in the last 24 hours, he said.

The area occupied by the armed foreign mercenaries was rapidly shrinking and Indian troops now held most of the ridge lines and were concurrently launching eviction operations, Singh said adding intelligence reports spoke of Pakistani army finding it extremely difficult to provide the intruders with medical aid, food, ammunition and other war-like stores.

Meanwhile, Pakistani army continued heavy shelling in Mushkoh valley and Drass sector causing damage to civilian property.

Maj Gen J J Singh told a special briefing that any Indian airman or any of the 12 Army personnel missing so far should be treated under the Geneva convention if they were in Pakistani custody.

A MiG-21 warplane flown by Ahuja was shot at by a Pakistani missile when he was trying to locate Nachiketa who had ejected from his MiG-27 fighter after it developed engine trouble.

He said efforts would be made to identify the position from where the Pakistani missile came and take necessary measures.

The Army moved in to capture a fourth key position in the Drass sector from the infiltrators including Pakistani Army regulars and completely dislodged them from the ridge. Three major positions were captured yesterday.

Maintaining that more than 200 mercenaries had been killed and a large number of infiltrators injured, Singh said the Indian casualty had risen to 24. The number of injured was 131 including about 25 seriously. 12 armymen were still missing, bringing down the number of missing personnel from 14 as two more bodies of men from Eight Sikh had been found.

Stating that a mountainous top at Tololing in Drass sub-sector had been cleared last evening, Singh said the aim of the infiltrators was mainly to capture the Srinagar-Leh highway passing through Drass and Kargil. Their designs have been defeated and they have been pushed back.

An External Affairs Ministry spokesman said Pakistan should ensure that during their custody, the IAF officer should be treated with dignity and well established norms should be adhered to.

He also denied Pakistani reports that there was sharp division in various quarters in India over the aerial strikes. "there is national consensus... Nation is one in its resolve to push out the intruders".

Asked whether the recent developments would hamper the process of Indo-Pak dialogue, he said "on our part, the door to dialogue will never be closed. We stand by all the agreements including the Lahore Declaration".

New Delhi, he said, desired good relations with Pakistan but it must realise that there cannot be stable relations in the face of such provocations.

During bilateral parleys, India had clearly told Islamabad that the Simla Agreement has to be the cornerstone of bilateral ties. "We have scrupulously adhered to all provisions of that accord. Pakistan, on the other hand, has violated this agreement in the past ten years by sponsoring terrorism in J and K. Today we have witnessed a new chapter in the violation of the Simla Agreement."

He said "all confidence building measures which are in place as far as we are concerned remain in place".

Making it clear that the armed intrusion was totally contrary to the path of peace, he said Government had repeatedly asserted that the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir could never be in doubt and there could be no compromise on the country’s territorial integrity. (Agencies)

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