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Missile-Carrying Indian Warships Sail Near Pakistan, Air Force On Alert

AFP file photo: Indian naval officers wait for the commissioning of the 'INS Prabal', an indigenously built missile boat, in Bombay 11 April 2002. The ship on commissioning will join the 22 missile vessel squadron of the Western Naval Command of India. AFP Photo
by Pratap Chakravarty
New Delhi (AFP) May 22, 2002
Missile-carrying Indian naval warships on Wednesday steamed into the Arabian Sea, closer to Pakistan, as military tensions between the two South Asian nuclear neighbours soared, officials here said.

"We have moved five frontline ships of the eastern fleet to be cross-deployed to the western seaboard to augment the force levels," Naval spokesman Commander Rahul Gupta said.

Highly-placed naval sources told AFP that four of the vessels are armed with missiles but the spokesman declined to elaborate on the redeployment, which comes in the middle of heightening military tensions between India and Pakistan.

"A Russian-built destroyer, an indigenous frigate and three corvettes are steaming into the Arabian Sea from the Bay of Bengal," the source said, adding the destroyer, the frigate and two of the corvettes are capable of launching missiles.

The Indian Navy has already brought the country's merchant navy under its flag and kept its only aircraft carrier on a state of alert in the Bay of Bengal.

The Indian Air Force, the world's fourth largest, also went on alert as India's mobilisation gained momentum on Wednesday.

"We are still not at the stage where we scramble jets but we are now on a state of alert," a senior offical from the Western Air Command told AFP on condition of anonymity.

He said the air force has also cleared some 80 grounded MiG-21s for operational duty due to the increased tensions. The planes were grounded when a jet ploughed into a state-run bank, killing or injuring 23 people earlier this month.

"We are also redeploying our Mirage-2000 and Jaguars to forward locations from their mother bases," the official said of the fleet of French- and British-built warplanes which adds teeth to India's mainly Russian-built air force.

The Press Trust of India said the air force was also moving its "strategic assets" including ground-to-air-missiles to protect vital installations but there was no independent confirmation of the dispatch.

AFP file photo: An Indian navy Sea Harrier takes-off from the flight deck of the INS Viraat, India's only aircraft carrier, while Indian navy ships carry out manoeuvres off the coast of Bombay 01 December 2001. Scores of Indian navy ships took part in the yearly exercises. Photo by Sebastian D'souza.
The twin moves come amid signs India and Pakistan are moving to the brink of war, with an already bitter standoff being intensified Wednesday by a statement by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee that the time had come for a "decisive fight."

"Our goal should be victory because now the time has come for a decisive fight and in this war we will win ... We have to fight our own war, we are ready for it, we are prepared for it," Vajpayee said, addressing Indian troops on the Kashmiri frontlines.

Tensions between the two South Asian states, which have fought three wars since independence in 1947, were sent soaring on December 13 when Islamic militants New Delhi claims were sponsored by Islamabad attacked the Indian parliament, leaving 14 people dead.

Since then, India and Pakistan have together deployed nearly one million troops along their shared border.

Tensions have again risen in the past week following an attack in Kashmir by Islamic rebels on an army post near the winter capital Jammu in which 35 people were killed.

All rights reserved. 2002 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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