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Thursday, August 12, 1999 Published at 04:27 GMT 05:27 UK

World: South Asia

US calls for India-Pakistan talks

Indian troops: Deployed at the airport after the helicopter incident

The United States has called on India and Pakistan to show restraint following two air clashes in as many days between the two nuclear powers.

India shot down a Pakistani naval aircraft on Tuesday killing all 16 people on board.

The BBC's Sean Waterman: The US said events indicated things were moving in the wrong direction
Tensions rose further on Wednesday when Pakistan fired on Indian aircraft.

US State Department spokesman James Rubin urged the two sides to engage in talks to defuse the crisis.

He called on them to abide by a 1991 agreement banning military flights within a 10km (six mile) zone across their common border.

The BBC's Daniel Lak: Fear that an accident can provoke a military confrontation is never far from the surface
Both had clearly violated the agreement over the past few days, Mr Rubin said.

"We urgently call on both sides to reinstitute this agreement in order to avoid further loss of life and further escalation and heightening of tensions."

Along with France and the United Nations, the US urged India and Pakistan to resume their stalled peace dialogue.

Mr Rubin said: "It's hard to be optimistic at this stage. If anything, today's events are an indication that we're going in the wrong direction.

[ image: Pakistan said it had targeted fighter jets, not helicopters]
Pakistan said it had targeted fighter jets, not helicopters
"We did urge very strongly that restraint be exercised. We are deeply concerned that India and Pakistan are firing on each other's aircraft along the international boundary."

However Mr Rubin said Washington did not plan to mediate - a constant demand of Pakistan, which India rejects.

The UN Security Council also urged restraint.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he was "increasingly concerned at repeated incidents between India and Pakistan" and urged them "to exercise maximum restraint".

The two nations came to the brink of war some weeks ago over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

Conflicting claims

In the latest incident, Indian officials said a surface-to-air missile was fired at one of the three helicopters carrying journalists to the border area to view the wreckage of the downed Pakistani aircraft.

Islamabad said it had targeted Indian fighter jets, and that the helicopters were behind the jets. It said the Indian aircraft were well inside Pakistani territory.

The BBC's Daniel Lak, who was on one of the helicopters, says the aircraft banked sharply and turned back. The pilot said he had seen a puff of smoke and a flash of light.

War of words

The original incident has led to a propaganda battle between the two countries.

[ image:  ]
On Wednesday, India's air force chief conceded that most of the wreckage of the aircraft lay on the Pakistan side of the Indian border.

But Air Chief Marshall AY Tipnis told journalists that the plane had been 10km inside Indian airspace before turning back, when it was shot.

Islamabad said the French-made Atlantique plane was unarmed and on a routine training flight in the Sir Creek area in Sindh province, southern Pakistan.

Both sides were quick to display pieces of wreckage to media teams. India flew back parts of the plane to Delhi to show waiting journalists.

Pakistan flew out reporters to the site of the wreckage, which it said was well within its territory.

Army troops were guarding the wreckage to ensure Indian soldiers did not take the debris.

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