India, Pakistan feud over whereabouts of vanished hijackers
January 3, 2000
From staff and wire reports
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Five men who hijacked an Indian Airlines plane were still in hiding Sunday, while India and Pakistan feuded over their identities and whereabouts.
The hijackers and three freed Kashmiri militants were last seen driving from an Afghan airport on Friday after leaving a plane where they kept 155 people hostage for eight days.
Pakistan's foreign minister insisted on Sunday that the hijackers were not in Pakistan.
"I can tell you with full responsibility that the hijackers have not entered Pakistan," Abdul Sattar told editors of Pakistan's Urdu-language newspapers on Sunday.
"Under international (laws) dealing with hijacking, we will arrest them and put them before court," he said.
It was the latest Pakistani government denial of India's allegations that the hijackers and the militants whose release they secured from Indian jails had fled to Pakistan.
Rivals also dispute hijackers' nationality
Islamabad has also denied New Delhi's charge that the hijackers are Pakistanis.
Officials in Afghanistan, where the end-game of the hijacking was played out, and Pakistan, the closest escape route for the fugitives, both denied the group was on their soil.
In the southern Indian city of Madras, an associate of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Sunday pressed the demand that Islamabad must arrest and hand over the hijackers.
"If Pakistan is really innocent as it pretends to be, let it hand over the hijackers, along with the militants, back to India and prove its innocence," Press Trust of India quoted Venkaiah Naidu, general secretary of Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party, as saying.
Diplomats said that geographically and politically, the hijackers and the captives freed by India would most probably have headed for Pakistan or Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
Search along mountain passes challenging
The government of Pakistan insisted that border patrols were on a heightened lookout for them, but acknowledged that the search would be difficult.
The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan extends for more than 1,000 miles with many mountain passes where the hijackers could cross. The identify of the hijackers, who wore masks throughout the hijacking, remained unknown.
The December 24 hijacking of the Indian Airbus-300 during a flight from Katmandu to New Delhi sparked a war of words between bitter rivals India and Pakistan.
New Delhi voiced suspicions that the hijacking had been sponsored by Pakistani intelligence agencies. Islamabad in turn said the incident appeared to be the work of India's Research and Analysis Wing intelligence agency to defame Pakistan.
The two countries have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Jammu and Kashmir.
Reporter Peter Bergen and Reuters contributed to this report.
ASIANOW - Islamabad vows to arrest hijackers if they enter Pakistan
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