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Sunday, May 30, 1999 Published at 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK

World: South Asia

Indian pilot 'killed in cold blood'

The pilot's body returns to India

An Indian pilot whose plane was shot down by Pakistan forces over Kashmir died from bullet wounds suffered after he ejected safely, Indian officials say.

Kashmir Conflict
An Indian air force spokesman condemned the death of Squadron Leader Ajay Ahuja as "cold-blooded murder" by the Pakistan army.

The airman was flying one of two Indian fighters downed over Pakistani-controlled Kashmir on Thursday.

Mike Wooldridge reports: "Few are predicting that this will be over quickly"
Pakistani military spokesman Brigadier Rashid Qureshi said the allegation was ridiculous, as the pilot would have been more valuable alive than dead.

Brigadier Qureshi told the BBC the pilot was dead before troops arrived on the scene, but he said he had asked for more information about the circumstances of his death.

Ahuja's body was returned to India on Saturday. Indian officials say it was found to have two bullet wounds - one to the head and one to the chest.

Delhi Correspondent Daniel Lak: "Pilot said to have ejected safely"
Indian Air Marshall SK Malik said: "We condemn this. It was a cold-blooded murder, an act of cowardice.

"Ahuja also had a fractured left knee which is perhaps an injury caused after his ejection from the plane."

[ image: Squadron leader Ajay Ahuja: India says death was cold-blooded murder]
Squadron leader Ajay Ahuja: India says death was cold-blooded murder
He said a post mortem carried out in India concluded that the MiG-21 pilot died from the head wound and that the shot to the chest had damaged his internal organs.

Squadron Leader Ahuja was shot down while trying to locate a colleague, whose MiG-27 fighter plane crashed into the Pakistan-administered Kashmir after suffering mechanical failure, Air Marshall Malik said.

The Pakistani military spokesman said a decision would be taken soon over India's demand for the release of the pilot from the other plane downed on Thursday, K Nachiketa.

He said certain legal procedures had to be followed before Mr Nachiketa could be freed, because the pilot had been carrying out hostile acts against Pakistan.

Raids continue

The Indian air campaign, against what Delhi says are Pakistan-backed infiltrators in Indian-administered Kashmir, has continued into its fifth day.

Military officers say that Indian ground troops are making significant gains against the infiltrators.

Mike Wooldridge in Drass: Commanders here say they will evict the infiltrators at any cost
An army spokesman said positions taken by the infiltrators had been recaptured, and that an Indian major had died in one such operation.

BBC Delhi Correspondent Daniel Lak says that the threat of a wider conflict appears to have receded, but that it cannot be ruled out until the clashes are over.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is reported to have told his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif that the air raids would continue until the guerrillas were ousted.

Pakistan proposes talks

But the Indian Government is considering a Pakistani offer to send its foreign minister for talks to defuse the crisis.

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

Pakistan denies any of its troops are involved with the infiltrators and has accused India of hitting its territory in the air strikes.

The two countries - now nuclear powers since last May's nuclear tests - have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.

The international community has reacted with alarm to the air strikes, the first by India in Kashmir for more than 20 years.

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