Indian helicopter downed as fierce fighting continues

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The Independent Online
THE CONFLICT in the high Himalayas became even fiercer yesterday when Pakistan-sponsored intruders into Indian Kashmir used a Stinger missile to shoot down an Indian helicopter, with the loss of all four of the crew.

It was the third Indian aircraft lost in as many days, as India again used jet fighters and helicopter gunships to dislodge some 600 fighters dug into the barren mountains.

Pakistan's Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, told a rally celebrating the first anniversary of his country's nuclear deterrent that he had spoken to India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, on the hotline again, informing him that Pakistan wanted peace. But in the sectors of Kargil and Dras in Kashmir, fierce fighting continued.

Indian fighters and helicopters fired missiles at tents, bunkers and stores of the infiltrators in the Dras sector, on the Indian side of the de facto border between Indian-controlled and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. India says the attacks were successful and that Indian ground troops, which had previously encountered stiff opposition here, were now in a position to clear the area.

But it was during this attack that an Indian helicopter was brought down by a Stinger missile, the weapon widely used by Mujahedin in Afghanistan against Soviet jets. It was said to be the first use of a Stinger missile in the Kashmir conflict.

Some of the militants fighting India are believed to be Afghans, but India maintains that regular Pakistan forces are behind the incursion. An Indian spokesman said that, after the attack on the helicopter, "we will be reviewing some of our options for evicting these infiltrators", but did not elaborate.

India's top gun, page 15