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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK

World: South Asia

Pakistani plane 'may have crossed border'

Tension has remained high since the stand-off over Kashmir

The Pakistani plane shot down by India this week may have strayed across the border between the two countries, according to foreign diplomats who visited the crash site.

However, the diplomats also said that India's reaction to the incident was not justified.

The diplomats - who included military attaches at western and other embassies in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad - went to see the wreckage on Thursday, taking global positioning systems and other equipment with them.

"My gut feeling is that the Pakistani plane may have strayed into restricted space. However, the Indian reaction was nowhere near in line," said one defence attache.

They said that the impact point of the crash was certainly inside Pakistani territory.

Agreement should be respected

The diplomats blamed both India and Pakistan for violating a 1991 agreement intended to prevent such incidents.

[ image:  ]
The agreement prohibits the use of combat aircraft within 10km of the border.

They discounted Pakistan's argument that the plane - an Atlantique naval reconnaissance aircraft - did not fall into the category of combat aircraft.

They also said the Pakistani authorities have not been able to explain why it was flying so close to the border.

India said the Pakistani plane had been 10km inside Indian airspace before turning back, when it was shot down.

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

Appeal for outside help

The latest stand-off between the two countries has led Pakistan to call for international mediation.

Pakistani Ambassador to the UN Inam ul Haque "The International Community must take a lead"
Pakistan's new ambassador to the United Nations, Inam ul Haque, called on the international community to take the lead in persuading the two countries to discuss their long-standing disputes.

The Security Council has said the two newest nuclear-armed nations should settle their problems through bilateral consultations.

The US has also appealed for restraint.

US National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer expresses concerns about the region
However, Mr ul Haque said that if nothing had been resolved after several decades, the international community should not expect the two countries to resolve all their disputes by themselves.

Mr ul Haque also called on the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to change his view that he would help to resolve the Kashmir issue only when both countries asked him to do so.

Latest crisis

Tensions rose further on Wednesday when Pakistan fired at Indian aircraft.

[ image:  ]
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 two nations came to the brink of war some weeks ago over the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.

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