Pakistan downplays alleged India airspace breach
By ZARAR KHAN,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 34 minutes ago
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan has downplayed alleged Indian violations of its airspace, suggesting Sunday that they were "inadvertent" and "technical" in an apparent bid to avoid worsening tensions already spiked by the Mumbai attacks.
Pakistani officials said Indian aircraft entered one to three miles (two to four kilometers) inside Pakistan's section of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir and over the eastern city of Lahore on Saturday.
Pakistani jets chased the Indian aircraft back over the border, authorities here said.
Both sides are usually careful to avoid such territorial violations, and it was unclear how two separate but apparently accidental incursions could occur on the same day.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari tried to dismiss the incidents, calling them "technical incursions" that have been blown out of proportion.
"Incursions do happen," he told a news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, saying the planes were flying at about 40,000 feet (12,000 meters) when they executed a turn that "slightly entered Pakistan soil."
India denied its aircraft crossed into Pakistani airspace.
"There has not been any airspace violation by the Indian air force as has been alleged," Indian air force spokesman Mahesh Upasani said Sunday.
The alleged incident comes amid tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals over last month's deadly attack in Mumbai. India has said the attack, which left more than 170 people dead, had roots in Pakistan.
It suspects the Lashkar-e-Taiba Islamist militant group. Members of the banned group and a charity allegedly linked to it have a strong presence in both areas over where the Indian planes were alleged to have flown.
Pakistan has denied any official link to the assault but has arrested some alleged plotters while demanding India hand over evidence to aid in their prosecution.
Pakistani officials seemed keen Sunday to avoid enflaming tensions. Air Force spokesman Humayun Viqar told Geo TV it may have been a "technical violation" because fighter jets fly at high altitudes and may have crossed the limits by mistake.
He said an unspecified number of Indian aircraft crossed over at 11:30 a.m. and 1:05 p.m. Saturday.
"We are ready to deal with any misadventure, we are monitoring the situation, we are on alert," Viqar said.
Pakistan Information Minister Sherry Rehman said in a statement that the Indian Air Force had told Pakistan the incursion was "inadvertent."
"There is no need for undue alarm," she said.
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