By Saad Sayeed
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The leader of Pakistani-administered Kashmir region said on Sunday Indian troops shot at his helicopter near the disputed frontier, a move likely to further fray ties between the two countries.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is divided between nuclear-armed neighbours, who both claim the mountainous region in full and have fought two of their three wars over it since their separation in 1947.
Farooq Haider Khan, the prime minister of the Azad Kashmir region controlled by Pakistan, said his civilian helicopter was fired upon by Indian army from across the “Line of Control”, which acts as a de facto border between the two countries.
“The Indian army fired to show that Pakistan had violated their airspace,” Khan’s office said in a statement, but added “when the firing took place, we were within our own airspace.”
Indian army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Devender Anand, said a Pakistani helicopter violated Indian air space along the line of control in Poonch district in India’s Jammu and Kashmir around noon local time (0630 GMT)
“It could likely to be a civil chopper and was flying very high. The air sentries at forward location had engaged it with small arms,” Anand said.
Relations between India and Pakistan appeared to be thawing in recent months, with violence and shelling across the Line of Control dialled down by both sides.
Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan also offered an olive branch to India upon taking office in mid-August, promising to repair ties, but in recent weeks relations have frayed again amid high-profile diplomatic clashes.
India has accused Pakistan of continuing to assist militants waging an insurgency in the Indian-controlled side of Kashmir, something which Pakistan denies, and planned talks between high-ranking officials at the United Nations meeting in New York this month were cancelled.
Khan, the Kashmir leader, said his helicopter was not armed in any way, and called for calm heads.
“We do not want any war hysteria in this region.”
(Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; editing by Jane Merriman)