Indian jets shot down by Pakistan

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The Independent Online
IN A CLEAR escalation of the fighting between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, Pakistan yesterday claimed that it had shot down two Indian fighters in Pakistani air space, close to the region where yesterday India launched air strikes against 600 "infiltrators".

India said it would not halt its air strikes against guerrillas holed up on its side of a ceasefire line in Kashmir until it had achieved its objective of evicting the intruders.

Asked how long the operations in Kashmir's Drass-Kargil-Batalik sectors would continue, Air Commodore Subhash Bhojwani replied: "It is not possible to lay down a time-frame. This is war. There is no time limit. Until the objective is met, there is no intention of a let-up in the air strikes."

India admitted that one plane, a MiG-27, had been shot down by a Pakistani missile while still over India, and termed the attack "a hostile and provocative act". It was the first time Indian aircraft were lost in combat since the 1971 war with Pakistan.

According to Pakistan the two planes were shot down shortly after 11am local time yesterday morning. One of the Indian pilots, they said, was killed in the attack and the other taken prisoner.

In the Indian version, delivered at a briefing in the Defence Ministry's war room in New Delhi, one Indian plane, a MiG-21, developed mechanical trouble and the pilot ejected, whereupon an Indian MiG-27 in the vicinity followed to locate the downed pilot to facilitate his later rescue.

It was while circling and observing that this second plane was struck by a Pakistani ground-to-air missile, fired, according to India, from across the border. When asked whether the Indian plane had crossed into Pakistani air space, the spokesman said "not to our knowledge". He also pointed out that the air strikes against the infiltrators take place only a few kilometres inside India and the jets travel very fast.

The spokesman said that India would take "appropriate action" against Pakistan for its attack, but refused to be drawn further, except to say that retaliation "does not include targeting Pakistani missile bases" on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.

The second day of India's air campaign against infiltrators in the high Himalayan wastes around Kargil began with pre-dawn raids on the positions attacked yesterday. Targets included the tents, stores and hideouts of some of the 600-odd troops - "Pakistani troops in disguise" as the Indian army spokesman described them.

"We are targeting their weak points," the spokesman said. "Ground troops will move in in the wake of the air attacks." He described the infiltrators as "a large and suicidal force". The spokesman said three Indian soldiers had been killed and seven injured in the past 48 hours. He claimed the number of infiltrators killed since air strikes began on Wednesday was now "far more than 160".

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee convened an emergency meeting of Cabinet ministers and military chiefs to assess the situation. "We have taken a decision, but I cannot tell you at this point of time," Defence Minister George Fernandes said.

India's National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra told the Star television network: "We don't think the situation will escalate into a general war. There's no need for any panic at all. When we went in for airstrikes, we went in knowing that there could be damage to our aircraft."

The United States, Britain, Russia and the UN\ Secretary-General urged restraint by both countries.