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India claims second Pakistani spy plane entered its air space

Thursday, January 10, 2002

JAMMU, India -- An unmanned Pakistani spy plane invaded Indian air space Wednesday for the second time this week, broaching an area south of the capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, an Indian Army officer said.

Security forces fired at the drone but it returned to Pakistan unharmed after 10 minutes, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. There was no immediate comment from Pakistan.

Also Wednesday, Indian security forces shot and killed a suspected Islamic militant after a three-hour standoff in a mosque in Kashmir.

Two suspected members of the militant Hezb-ul Mujahedeen group had sought refuge in the mosque in Bamurada, 18 miles northwest of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state, said R.P. Sandhu, commanding officer of the army operation. The other suspect was wounded in a shootout that broke out after the two men opened fire, he said.

Parliament attack

India and Pakistan have been locked in a standoff since a Dec. 13 attack on the Indian Parliament in which 14 people were killed, including five assailants. New Delhi has accused the Pakistani spy agency of sponsoring the assault, a charge Islamabad denies.

After the attack, both countries sent hundreds of thousands of troops to their 1,100-mile-long border, cut diplomatic staffs by half and suspended cross-border air, bus and train travel.

Indian and Pakistani troops also resumed firing at one another in northern Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Two of the three wars fought between predominantly Hindu India and mostly Muslim Pakistan since independence in 1947 have been over Kashmir.

Kashmir fighting

More than a dozen Islamic militant groups have been fighting Indian security forces in Kashmir since 1989, seeking its independence or merger with Pakistan. At least 32,000 people have died in the insurgency.

India accuses Pakistan of funding and training the militants; Islamabad calls the guerrillas "freedom fighters" and says it provides only moral support.

On Sunday, the Indian military claimed to have shot down a Pakistani drone after it intruded 2 1/2 miles into Kashmir. Pakistani officials denied sending the aircraft into Indian-controlled Kashmir and claimed the plane belonged to India.

The United States, Britain, China and other nations have called on the South Asian rivals to negotiate to end the risk of a fourth war. Washington is concerned the standoff could harm its campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaida terrorist suspects in nearby Afghanistan.

Informal contact between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf during a summit of South Asian leaders in Nepal last week failed to de-escalate tensions.

Vajpayee has refused to negotiate until Pakistan cracks down on the militants. He has also demanded the extradition of 20 suspects involved in alleged terrorist attacks in India.

Pakistan has arrested some 300 Islamic extremists in the last few weeks, but India says they were arrested for violations of Pakistani law, not for suspected acts of terrorism.

Musharraf was expected to make a speech later this week outlining his military regime's new policies regarding Islamic extremists operating from Pakistani territory.

However, senior Pakistani officials tried Wednesday to play down expectations that Musharraf was planning a major crackdown as announced Tuesday by a group of U.S. senators who met with Musharraf a day earlier.

On Wednesday, Indian Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani was meeting in Washington with Attorney General John Ashcroft, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Powell plans to travel to India and Pakistan next week. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell will visit both capitals to urge a reduction of tensions and to discuss ways to improve international cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Despite the escalation of tensions, generals from the two countries have maintained routine phone contact each week, speaking most recently Tuesday, Indian Defense Ministry spokesman P.K. Bandhopadhyaya said.


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