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Wednesday, October 17, 2001

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We will be ruthless with infiltrators: Fernandes

By Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI, OCT. 16. A day after firing took place across the Line of Control (LoC), the Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, said India would be ruthless in dealing with infiltrators in Jammu & Kashmir.

Speaking to the media against the backdrop of U.S. Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell's arrival in the country, the Minister said, ``retaliatory action will always be taken. There will be no holding back.''

Strongly defending the ``punitive'' army action on Monday evening that left 30 infiltrators dead and several Pakistani Army posts destroyed, Mr. Fernandes sought to downplay the impression that the army action was in any way connected to Gen. Powell's visit. Incidents of this kind were frequent along the Line of Control and to some extent on the international border as well. He denied that India initiated the strike or that the assault had anything to do with Gen. Powell's visit. Nor did the Minister subscribe to the Pakistani view that India was acting tough at this juncture.

Only a counter-measure

``The Army took the initiative to throw back (the infiltrators) and in the process used fire on terrorists trying to infiltrate. Their desire was to prove they can still infiltrate while our action was in retaliation,'' he explained. The Army countered the infiltration with small arms, air defence guns, automatic grenade launchers and mortars but artillery fire was not used, the Defence Minister clarified.

Asked if the Army was planning to strike at terrorist training camps across the border, Mr. Fernandes merely said such plans were never discussed in public.

Giving his impression of terrorist activity in J&K, the Defence Minister said there were reports of some foreign militants exfiltrating. At the same time, some local recruits were attempting to enter the State after completing their training. Commenting on the deployment of Pakistani forces along the border, Mr. Fernandes said there had been no change since the ceasefire was called off. Though some troop movement had taken place following the Afghan crisis, it was entirely of a defensive nature.

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