Pakistan murdered captured pilot, says India

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The Independent Online
PAKISTAN CAPTURED and killed in cold blood the Indian pilot of a MiG-21 brought down by a missile, the government in Delhi said yesterday.

"It was a cold-blooded murder," Air Vice-Marshal S K Malik said of the killing of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja, "An act of cowardice by Pakistan Army regulars. His friends and colleagues are determined to avenge his death."

The body was brought back to India on Saturday. India said the body had two bullet wounds, one to the head and one to the chest.

Evidence shown to reporters last week near the site where the plane came down in Pakistan seemed to support India's claim. In the military base of Hamzigund, 10 miles from the Line of Control, a Pakistani brigadier displayed the pilot's ejector seat, parachute and harness, gloves and survival kit. Also displayed were his identity card and 9mm Russian- made Indian Air Force hand-gun.

Its magazine was half full, even though pilots always fly with a fully loaded weapon, and displayed next to it was a single bullet casing from a round that had clearly been fired recently from the same gun. None of the items showed any signs - such as bloodstains or impact damage - that would have indicated that the pilot had died in a crash landing.

India said yesterday it had pushed back guerrillas holed up in northern Kashmir towards a demarcation line with Pakistan, and warned it would press on with the biggest offensive in the region in nearly 30 years.

As Indian jets attacked enemy positions on the mountains of Ladakh, in northern Kashmir, yesterday for the fifth day, there were reports that the conflict is spreading.

Two village near Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region, have been bombarded by Pakistani artillery for two days, and new intrusions by heavily armed militants have been detected in the same area.

In the south of Kashmir a bomb on the main highway south from the capital, Srinagar, blew up a bus carrying members of India's paramilitary Indo- Tibetan Border Police, killing three and injuring 12.

The highway is Kashmir state's only road link to the rest of India and is being heavily used by the Indian army to ferry reinforcements to Ladakh.

India's Defence Minister, George Fernandes, flew to Kargil yesterday, where he was briefed on the latest situation. Mr Fernandes, a former peace campaigner, has been strongly criticised in the Indian press for being busy with extra- curricular matters while militants were busy occupying the hills over Kargil.

He said last week that the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was not to blame for the latest conflict. He blamed it on the Pakistan Army. That statement roused widespread fury and triggered calls for him to be sacked.

Sources in Srinagar claimed that since the shooting down of the three Indian aircraft last week, India's MiGs have been flying very high, diminishing their effectiveness.

Although tension remains high, there are signs that the conflict is not about to spread into an all-out war.

Pakistan has offered talks with India to defuse the struggle between these two newest nuclear powers, which conducted underground explosions one year ago. India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said he was considering the offer of talks, but added that the military action against the militants would continue.