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Release of shot-down Indian pilot delayed by hours

Indian security forces stand guard near the India-Pakistan border in Wagah on March 1, 2019, as they wait for the return of an Indian Air Force pilot being returned by Pakistan.

[WAGAH] Crowds on the Indian side of the border with Pakistan dwindled late Friday as the wait for the handover of a captured air force pilot dragged on.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was downed on Wednesday over Kashmir, had been expected to be handed over to Indian authorities at the Wagah border crossing on Friday afternoon.

But as night fell, the wait dragged on and the crowd of people, previously numbering several thousand waving flags and singing patriotic songs, dwindled to a few hundred.

Authorities on both sides were tight-lipped on the reasons for the delay.

Mr Varthaman was shot down on Wednesday in a dogfight with Pakistani aircraft over the tinder box disputed region of Kashmir, divided between India and Pakistan since 1947.

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This came after Indian warplanes launched a strike inside Pakistani territory, claiming to have hit a militant camp in the first such aerial raid since their last war in 1971.

The strike followed a massive suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian troops on February 14, with the attack claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group.

Violence meanwhile continued to rage in Kashmir on Thursday and Friday, with both sides firing mortars and artillery over the de-facto Line of Control (LoC) frontier, killing at least one woman.

Gunbattles between militants and security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir meanwhile left seven dead including four members of the Indian security forces, two militants and one civilian.


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