Pakistan releases Indian helicopter that crossed border

ISLAMABAD Sun Oct 23, 2011 10:19am EDT

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan released an Indian army helicopter just hours after it strayed across the tense border between the two countries on Sunday, officials said, underscoring a desire by the old rivals to avoid any crisis as they try to improve ties.

The Pakistani military had forced the Indian helicopter to land and detained four Indian army officials after it intruded into its territory in Olding sector in northern Skardu region near the border in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

But it was released after senior military officials from both sides spoke on a hotline.

"The helicopter and four officers on board returned around 5.30 p.m. (1230 GMT) after a contact between the director-general military operations of the two countries," Pakistani military spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas said.

The Indian defense ministry said the helicopter had returned to Kargil in Indian-ruled Kashmir. "The issue has been resolved," the ministry spokesman, Sitanshu Kar, said.

Indian officials said the helicopter strayed into Pakistani territory because of bad weather.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir lies at the heart of tensions between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals and has been trigger of two of the three wars between them since their independence from British rule in 1947.

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

However, relations between the two uneasy neighbors have improved after they resumed a peace process this year which was suspended following attacks by Pakistan-based Islamist militants on the Indian city of Mumbai in 2008, that killed 166 people.

"The swift release of the helicopter shows both countries do not want to derail the peace process. Otherwise it could have turned into a major crisis," security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi said.

The Himalayan region of Kashmir is divided but claimed in entirety by both Pakistan and India.

(Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel in NEW DELHI and Ashok Pahalwan in JAMMU; Editing by Sugita Katyal)