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Saturday, 8 June, 2002, 03:56 GMT 04:56 UK
Pakistan 'downs Indian spy plane'
Indian soldiers
The stand-off threatens to erupt into war
The Pakistani army says it has shot down an unmanned Indian spy plane near the Pakistani city of Lahore.

A military statement said Pakistan Air Force jets brought the plane down at 2300 local time (1700 GMT) on Friday, sending wreckage falling near the town of Raja Jang in Punjab province, the official APP news agency reported.

Pakistani Government spokesman Major General Rashid Quereshi said the spy plane showed India's "complete disregard" for "international norms".

India said it was "verifying these reports" and would comment on them later on Saturday.

Earlier, a US envoy to the region said tensions between the South Asian neighbours over the disputed territory of Kashmir had eased slightly but there was still a risk of a full-scale conflict.

As Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage took his diplomatic mission from Pakistan to India, forces from both sides traded fire across the Line of Control which divides Kashmir, reportedly killing at least eight civilians.

US peace push

Speaking to reporters following a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mr Armitage said he felt tensions between the two sides were "a little bit down".

I have seen two Indo-Pak wars in 1965 and 1971 and still the pain is there. War is so ugly and destructive

Dr Ashok Kumar, Oman

The deputy secretary of state expressed cautious optimism a day after he held talks with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Mr Armitage said he told the Indians General Musharraf had assured him he would do "everything he can to avoid a war".

The US envoy said he told Mr Vajpayee that the Pakistani leader had promised to put an end cross-border attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

In Washington, the US State Department said there had been a significant decline in the number of infiltrations across the Line of Control (LoC), which divides the disputed territory.

But the Indian foreign ministry said it wanted to see proof of an end to attacks before India would enter talks with its arch-rival neighbour.

Earlier, the Indian foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, said India was committed to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis because there was "no alternative".

Mr Armitage will brief US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the outcome of his mission in Estonia on Saturday, as Mr Rumsfeld prepares to visit the region himself next week.

Border fighting

Indian and Pakistani forces continued to trade heavy artillery and gunfire across the LoC on Friday.

Rising tension:

1 October 2001:
38 killed in attack on the Kashmir assembly in Srinagar
13 December 2001:
14 killed in attack on the Indian parliament building in Delhi
14 May 2002:
More than 30 killed in attack on an Indian army camp in Kashmir
21 May 2002:
Moderate Kashmiri politician Abdul Ghani Lone shot dead

The Pakistani army said five civilians were killed and 15 injured on its side of the border, while Indian police said three civilians died and six others were wounded in Indian-administered territory.

Shells also landed for the first time in deserted areas outside the Pakistani city of Kotli, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the LoC, sending residents fleeing in panic, officials said.

India and Pakistan have massed about a million troops along their border since tensions soared last December following an attack by Islamic extremists on India's parliament in Delhi.

India has demanded Pakistan cracks down on Islamic militants which it says stage cross-border attacks in Indian-administered Kashmir with Pakistan's support.

Pakistan has denied the accusation and has vowed to defend itself against any Indian military action.

The BBC's Susannah Price
"This kind of incident will undoubtedly increase the tensions once again"

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See also:

05 Jun 02 | South Asia
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