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Sunday, May 30, 1999 Published at 00:01 GMT 01:01 UK

World: South Asia

India reports Kashmir gains

Indian troops: Reportedly within 50m of "infiltrator" positions

India says it has made significant gains in its continuing air, artillery and ground operations against what it calls infiltrators in Indian-administered Kashmir.

Kashmir Conflict
Indian troops are on the verge of hand-to-hand fighting in some areas, according to an Indian military spokesman.

Conflict continues despite diplomatic moves by Pakistan, which called on the United Nations to mediate the dispute.

The BBC's Daniel Lak: "India is speaking confidently of successes"
Pakistan also offered to send its foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz, to India early next week to discuss easing tensions in Kashmir.

Indian Major General JJ Singh said some areas in Indian-administered Kashmir, previously held by infiltrators, had been retaken, following four days of fighting.

Mike Wooldridge in Drass: Commanders here say they will evict the infiltrators at any cost
BBC correspondent in Kashmir, Mike Wooldridge, says the Indian military reported that in the small town of Drass, infiltrators were reportedly dug-in barely 50 metres from Indian troops in some places.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

However, Pakistani military officials said the latest Indian attacks seem to have been less intense than in previous days.

Diplomatic moves

Following Pakistan's diplomatic moves, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said he was willing to talk, but that there would be no let up in the military campaign to eject alleged infiltrators from Indian territory.

[ image:  ]
However, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes said on Saturday: "We do not believe it will escalate into a war."

Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, has written to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, asking him to send a special envoy to the region and enlarge the UN observer mission there.

Mr Fernandes responded to this by saying that India had assurances from the UK, the US, Russia and France - all permanent members of the UN Security Council - that the council would not discuss the fighting.

Congress concerns

Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi expressed concern over the situation in Kashmir, saying India's security, sovereignty and territorial integrity should be protected "at any cost".

But Indian television said that Mrs Gandhi had stressed that every effort should be made to find a solution through "diplomatic intiatives".

India's Major General Singh said around 300 "infiltrators" had been killed and nearly 700 wounded - more than half of the original number who had taken positions in Indian territory.

He said there was now evidence of Pakistan regular army involvement in the intrusion - something Pakistan has denied.

Plane crash admitted

India, for its part, has admitted that one of its downed war planes had strayed into Pakistani airspace before it crashed. The body of one its pilots has been returned by Pakistan.

The BBC's Daniel Lak: "Tensions do appear somewhat lower"
Altogether, India has lost three aircraft - two warplanes and a military helicopter.

Officials said the helicopter was brought down by a shoulder-launched Stinger missile. All four crew members were killed.

BBC Delhi Correspondent Daniel Lak says that despite the continuing military campaign, tensions appear somewhat lower after the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers spoke on Friday.

In Kashmir itself, thousands of people have fled their homes following fighting near the line of control with Pakistan.

India says the forces that have crossed over into their territory are mostly Islamic insurgents from Afghanistan, supported by Pakistani army regulars.

The two countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

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