India Shoots Down
Pakistani Patrol Plane - 16 Dead


NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian combat jet shot down a Pakistani maritime patrol aircraft Tuesday, prompting a threat of retaliation from Islamabad, which said all 16 people on board died, the victims of ``cold-blooded murder.''
India said the reconnaissance and anti-submarine Berguet Atlantique plane strayed into its airspace off the coast of the western state of Gujarat at 11:15 a.m. local time.
It was challenged by two MiG-21 jet fighters, one of which fired a missile when the patrol plane refused to land at an Indian airbase, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Pakistani officials took journalists to see the wreck where the plane's fuselage had plowed deep into the mud of the Indus river at a point they said was two minutes' flying time from Indian territory.
``It was broken up but the main piece of the plane was buried in the mud,'' said Reuters television cameraman Altaf Hussain, who was taken by military helicopter with other journalists to the marshland in the Indus delta.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement, ``This aggression has resulted in the cold-blooded murder of 16 innocent persons, which is reprehensible and deserves strong condemnation by the international community,''
``The responsibility for this wanton and cowardly act, as well as its consequences, rests squarely with India,'' Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz told a news briefing. ``Pakistan reserves the right to make an appropriate response in self-defense.''
The incident immediately ratcheted up tension again between the nuclear-capable neighbors, which had stood on the brink of a fourth war just a few weeks ago.
Washington voiced concern over the development and urged both sides to resume the rapprochement, which was agreed to at a landmark summit in the Pakistani city of Lahore last February.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed regret at the loss of life. A spokesman said Annan was ``increasingly concerned at the repeated incidents between India and Pakistan, and urges that the differences between them be resolved by peaceful means.''
New Delhi launched a massive air and ground offensive in May against infiltrators holed up in the mountains of Kargil, on its side of the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir.
The Kargil clash ended last month when the militants retreated behind the line dividing the region between India and Pakistan.
India said it had no option but to shoot the plane down.
``It came deep inside our area before noon. In spite of an early warning, when it did not show any indication of withdrawal or going back, we had no option but to shoot it,'' a defense ministry spokesman said.
India said the plane flew some six miles inside its territory in Kori Creek, a marshy area that runs out to the Arabian Sea. It distributed a map pinpointing the crash site 1.25 miles on India's side of the maritime border.
The site was close to Sir Creek, one of many places were the two arch-rivals dispute the location of their border.
India's Foreign Ministry said a protest had been lodged with Pakistan's envoy in New Delhi over the plane's intrusion.
``...A strong protest was lodged with him about the provocative activity carried out by a Pakistani military aircraft by its intrusion into Indian territory,'' a spokesman said. ``Whatever has happened is entirely the responsibility of Pakistan, including the death of those who were on the aircraft.''
Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes told a news briefing that the navy and the South Western Air Command had been put on a state of alert, and the Directors General of Military Operations of both sides had spoken to each other on a hotline.