Pakistan forces Indian helicopter to land

ISLAMABAD Sun Oct 23, 2011 8:13am EDT

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's fighter jets forced an Indian army helicopter to land for violating Pakistani airspace on Sunday and detained four Indian army officers, Pakistani military officials said.

The helicopter intruded into Pakistani territory in Olding sector in northern Skardu region near the border with Indian Kashmir at around 1:00 p.m (4 a.m. EDT).

The incident comes as the two South Asian rivals are trying to improve ties strained after an attack by Pakistan-based Islamist militants in the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, that killed 166 people.

"The helicopter had come deep into our airspace. It was forced to land. Four Indian army officers have been taken into safe custody. They are safe," military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas told Reuters.

Abbas said India had been informed of the incident and investigations were underway.

"Our air defense aircraft immediately scrambled into the air and reached the area and forced the helicopter to land," a Pakistan air force official said.

A military official said a lieutenant-colonel, two majors and a junior commission officer of the Indian army were on board the helicopter and all of them had been detained.

Indian television reports cited army sources saying the airspace violation by the Cheetah model helicopter operated by the 666 Siachen Falcons was not intentional.

The reports said the helicopter entered Pakistan territory during "whiteout" conditions due to snow in the mountainous region.

"It was due to bad weather that the Cheetah chopper strayed across the LoC. There was no deliberate attempt to intrude," the Indian army said in a statement to Times Now television station, referring to the de facto border in the divided Kashmir region known as the Line of Control.

The nuclear-armed neighbors have fought three wars, mainly over the disputed Kashmir region, since their independence from British rule in 1947.

However, their relations have improved after they resumed a peace process this year which was suspended after the Mumbai attacks.

Analysts said the two countries might try to resolve the incident amicably.

"Overall, the relations are improving and both governments would like to avoid any crisis if the intrusion was unintentional," security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said.

The latest incident took place near Kargil in Indian Kashmir where the two nations came dangerously close to their fourth war in 1999.

(Additional reporting by Jack Daniel; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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