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Army to take UK chief for LoC walk

New Delhi, Sept. 24: The British chief of defence staff, now in India, will be given a tour of a sector on the Line of Control in Kashmir by the Indian Army to back up its claims that Pakistan-sponsored infiltration is continuing apace.

General Sir Michael Walker, who met defence minister George Fernandes this afternoon, was told that the intensity of shelling by Pakistan had gone up in recent weeks. Walker has visited the LoC from the Pakistani side and he would be the first chief of a western military to be given a tour of the LoC by India. India has been granting conditional access to foreign military officials to visit Kashmir and brief them on the situation.

“That seems to be the case,” Walker said in his only statement to the media after emerging from a meeting with the defence minister. He was asked for his understanding of the Indian view that Pakistan was continuing to push in militants into Kashmir. He will be visiting Kashmir on Friday. Defence ministry sources said he was likely to be taken to the Uri sector.

The British chief was briefed on Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s peace efforts with Pakistan. The defence minister told him that India was keen on peace but cross-border infiltration was steadily eroding the effort.

General Walker is understood to have given an account of the British military’s experience with a chief of defence staff. A proposal by a group of ministers to create the post in India has been hanging fire for four years.

A defence ministry release said discussions with Walker encompassed the situation in Iraq and South Asia.

Talks were being held on an exercise scheduled between the Indian and British armies early next year.

“During the last Indo-UK defence consultative group meeting in London in June 2003, the British side had proposed a number of operationally related training activities between the two armed forces. These and other events will provide armed forces of both countries an opportunity to understand each other’s operating procedures, while enhancing bilateral defence co-operation,” the ministry said in a statement.

Walker’s visit is part of a series of high-level military exchanges between India and the UK.

The British chief also met the chairman, chief of staff committee and chief of naval staff, Admiral Madhvendhra Singh, the army chief, General .C. Vij, and the vice chief of air staff, Air Marshal M. McMahon.

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