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Monday, May 31, 1999 Published at 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK

World: South Asia

Bid to defuse Kashmir tensions

India is said to be using Mirage fighters in air operations

India and Pakistan are to hold talks over Kashmir in the first sign that the two sides might be trying to defuse escalating tensions.

Kashmir Conflict
India has agreed to host Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz in Delhi after dates for the visit are worked out through diplomatic channels.

BBC Correspondent David Willis: "India keen on bilateral solution"
The announcement came during the sixth day of India's combined ground and air operations against what it claims are Pakistani-backed infiltrators.

BBC Correspondent Mike Wooldridge, who is in Kashmir, says that India is now believed be using Mirage fighters to give it greater fire power and sophistication in its air strikes.

India details losses

[ image:  ]
With operations showing no sign of letting up, the Defence Minister George Fernandes has outlined India's losses and said he was unable to place a time-frame on the conflict.

He said India had killed 320 militants and 150 Pakistan soldiers in fighting along the line of control.

Earlier, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had said Pakistan was attempting to alter the frontier in Kashmir through "a kind of invasion."

[ image: Vajpayee:
Vajpayee: "A kind of invasion"
He also accused Pakistan of preparing for the confrontation when the two nations were meant to be trying to improve relations.

India has said there will be no let up in its battle against the infiltrators.

It continued to press on with their effort to force out the well armed and well entrenched infiltrators from rocky Himalayan ledges, overlooking moutain roads and supply routes.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

Pakistan has rejected India's claims of success.

The official Pakistani news agency has said that the rebels are firmly entrenched and have made considerable gains against the Indian army.

Indian pilot 'shot dead'

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

Delhi Correspondent Daniel Lak: "Pilot said to have ejected safely"
The body, which was returned to India on Saturday, was said to have two bullet wounds - one to the head and one to the chest.

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."

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.

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.

[ image: Kashmiri civilians are the worst sufferers in the conflict]
Kashmiri civilians are the worst sufferers in the conflict
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 last 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.

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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