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World - Asia/Pacific

India bombs Kashmir guerrillas for fifth straight day; ground fighting expected to escalate

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 SPECIAL:
Ground Zero: The nuclear question
 ALSO:


 MESSAGE BOARD:
India-Pakistan relations

May 30, 1999
Web posted at: 10:17 a.m. EDT (1417 GMT)


In this story:

India set for hand-to-hand combat

Peace efforts stall

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Indian fighter jets and attack helicopters pounded guerrilla hideouts in the disputed Kashmir territory for the fifth straight day Sunday as rebels in the rugged Himalayan region vowed a prolonged conflict.

India's air force began sorties Wednesday in an attempt to oust infiltrators from its part of Kashmir, which New Delhi says are Afghan mercenaries and Pakistani soldiers in disguise.

Pakistan has denied backing the Islamic militants and says India is attempting to encroach on its territory.

Tensions between the two governments escalated Sunday as India demanded the quick return of a downed fighter pilot and an explanation for the death of another.

India accused Pakistan of killing Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja after he bailed out of his crashing MiG jet. Ahuja was cremated with full military honors after Pakistan returned his body, but Indian officials told CNN an autopsy showed he had bullet wounds to the chest and the back of the head.

Air Vice Marshal S.K. Malik condemned the pilot's killing Saturday.

"This is cold-blooded murder -- an act of cowardice -- on the part of Pakistani regulars," Malik said.

Pakistan denies India's accusation. Another pilot, who also ejected, remains in Pakistani custody and is unhurt.

India has lost two fighter jets and a helicopter gunship. Pakistan claims to have shot down the planes and the United Jehad Council, an umbrella group of Kashmiri Islamic rebels, claims responsibility for bringing down the helicopter.

India set for hand-to-hand combat

India says about 600 Pakistani-backed insurgents have infiltrated into its side of Kashmir this month, and launched its campaign Wednesday to clear them out.

remains
Indian air force personnel carry the remains of Ahuja, who died Thursday when an Indian MiG fighter went down over Kashmir  

Indian forces have contained rebels in the Kargil sector and are prepared for hand-to-hand combat to dislodge them from their mountain strongholds, said Maj. Gen. J. J. Singh, an Indian military spokesman.

"All intrusions have been contained, intruders had been pushed back in all sectors," he said. "Close combats have been reported.

But a spokesman for the rebel alliance in Kargil, which includes four militant groups, said on Sunday they had not lost any positions to Indian troops.

He was speaking from Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistani side of the region.

Suspected rebels attacked an Indian military vehicle on the strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway on Sunday, leaving at least three soldiers dead and 13 wounded, Indian official said.

The Indian army said its casualties stand thus far at 29 killed and 128 wounded. Twelve soldiers or officers are missing, the army said Saturday.

Peace efforts stall

Singh has said that it could take Indian ground troops several weeks to regain control of Kashmir from the heavily armed rebels.

Peace efforts have stalled. India on Sunday said it was still considering a Pakistani proposal for a visit by Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz, but no dates have been set.

Kashmir has been at the center of two of the three wars that India and Pakistan have fought since their independence in 1947. A U.N.-drawn Line of Control divides the territory.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's military spokesman Brigadier Rashid Quereshi said troops have brought up artillery to reinforce key positions on Pakistan's side of the Line of Control. But he said the size of India's force in Kashmir raises doubts about its stated objectives.

"They have gathered one division's strength, which means five to six brigades and 60 to 70 front-line aircraft, under the apparent excuse of eliminating 200 Mujahed, as they are saying," Quereshi said. "I think this is big overkill."

The United States, Russia and other countries have urged restraint, fearing Kashmir could spark a new all-out war between the two nations, both of which exploded nuclear devices in underground tests last year.

CNN New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra, Correspondent Kasra Naji and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
India launches major ground assault in Kashmir; talks set with Pakistan
May 29, 1999
Pakistan pushes for talks to end Kashmir fighting
May 28, 1999
Pakistan seeks U.N. help in Kashmir dispute
May 27, 1999
Indian attack on Kashmir guerrillas raises alarm in Pakistan
May 26, 1999

RELATED SITES:

Contemporary conflicts: Kashmir
Kashmir News Reports
Kashmir Information Network
The Government of Pakistan
Indian Ministry of External Affairs
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