India launches third day of airstrikes in Kashmir
May 28, 1999
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) - India unleashed a third day of airstrikes against guerrillas on the northern heights of Kashmir on Friday, and said it had killed at least 151 of the militants and choked off their supply routes from Pakistan.
"Strikes are continuing," a defense ministry spokesman told Reuters without giving details of the raids.
India's air force accused Pakistan of shooting down an MI-17 helicopter over the Himalayan region claimed by the world's two newest nuclear powers. A spokesman said the helicopter was shot from across the Line of Control that divides the Pakistani and Indian-controlled zones of the region.
The latest strafing of the barren ridges came after a night of heavy artillery exchange by Indian and Pakistani troops across the Line of Control, fueling fears of a widening conflict between the two nuclear rivals.
India and Pakistan have gone to war twice over Kashmir since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. Since 1990, they have been locked in a diplomatic tussle over a Muslim revolt in Kashmir, two-thirds of which is ruled by India and the rest by Pakistan.
Loss of jets confirmed
A senior Indian defense official confirmed that Pakistan had captured the pilot of one of two combat jets lost on Thursday in raids near the Line of Control.
Pakistan's military said India had intensified shelling and carried out "probing attacks" since the loss of their MiG-21 and MiG-27 attack aircraft, which Islamabad said were shot down after they invaded its airspace.
"I'm sure they suffered a shock yesterday when we shot down their planes," said army spokesman Brigadier Rashid Qureshi. "We don't expect them to keep quiet...so we are prepared for this."
Indian branded the charge a "figment of Pakistan's imagination" and said its neighbor appeared to be pushing more infiltrators into the Indian side of Kashmir and had continued with "senseless targetting" of civilian areas.
Strikes will go on
Sounding upbeat despite their setback on Thursday, Indian military chiefs said the airstrikes would continue until the infiltrators were flushed out or killed.
Maj. Gen. J.J. Singh, additional director general of operations, told a news briefing that more than 200 of the militants spread across an area of 30-40 km (19-25 miles) inside Indian territory had probably been killed.
"These intrusions are shrinking backwards now," he said. "They can't move forward because no one can support them."
He said 24 Indian personnel had died in the three-week-old hostilities, while 131 were wounded and 12 were missing.
"Unless we find their bodies, we are not sure if they are dead or in captivity," he said.
An Indian defense official confirmed Pakistan's claim that one of its pilots had been captured on the other side.
Pakistan said it shot down the planes after they violated its airspace and both crashed six to seven km (3.7 to 4.3 miles) inside its territory. It said one of the pilots was killed and the other was captured and would be treated as a prisoner of war.
India said there had been no violation of the Line of Control. It said one of the jets developed engine failure and the pilot ejected. The other flew low to locate the pilot and was hit by a surface-to-air missile from across the Line of Control.
Protest against airstrikes
In Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu and Kashmir state, a one-day strike called by separatists to protest against the airstrikes on "freedom fighters" closed shops and businesses.
Defense officials said there had been a change of tack by the Indian Air Force on Friday. There was no dawn strike, as on the two previous days, and the raids were launched from cities other than Srinagar to surprise the other side.
Islamabad, which on Friday marked the first anniversary of nuclear tests staged in reply to underground blasts by New Delhi, says it wants to defuse the situation and is seeking U.N. intervention in Kashmir.
India says it is committed to February's Lahore Declaration that pledged to solve the dispute over the region amicably.
Analysts say the conflict is unlikely to spread, though world powers have reacted with alarm to the mounting violence.
New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra and Reuters contributed to this report.
Pakistan seeks U.N. help in Kashmir dispute
The Government of Pakistan
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