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India downs Pakistan plane

Tensions reignited between the world's newest nuclear powers Tuesday after India shot down a Pakistani reconnaissance plane and Pakistan threatened to retaliate.

Pakistan said the attack killed 16 of its servicemen. The two countries disputed where the plane was shot down and on whose territory the wreckage landed.

India said the surveillance aircraft was shot down after it veered six miles into Indian airspace and failed to respond to warnings. An air force spokesman said the wreckage of the plane had been retrieved from India's territory.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz said the French-built Atlantic-I aircraft was on a training mission when it was shot down near a small coastal town in Pakistan.

An Indian air force plane flew part of the wreckage into New Delhi early today. Officials said the wreckage was retrieved from Indian territory along the India-Pakistan border.

Pakistan's navy distributed photographs and video pictures of smoldering wreckage it said was from an unidentified location near Badin, 110 miles east of the border with India. No journalists were taken to the site except a cameraman from state-run Pakistan TV.

An Indian air force spokesman, Squadron Leader R.K. Dhingra, said it was possible the wreckage fell on both sides of the India-Pakistan border.

Pakistan suggested international observers be called in to see where the wreckage had fallen, but India rejected the idea.

The clash dispelled any immediate hope of moving relations between the two powers back onto a peaceful track.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since they gained independence from Britain in 1947. Despite frequent diplomatic scuffles, this was the first aerial clash since they last went to war in 1971.

India and Pakistan came to the brink of their fourth war this summer during an 11-week confrontation in the snowbound mountains of disputed Kashmir province. India said Pakistani troops had infiltrated its territory from across the Himalayas, but Pakistan denied its troops were involved and said all the fighters were local militants.

Senior Indian and Pakistani army officials spoke by phone after the crash, said Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday urged India and Pakistan to exercise "maximum restraint" and called on both countries to settle their differences peacefully.

"I hope we are not going to embark on a new exchange that could lead to an escalation," Annan said at U.N. headquarters. "I hope it will be handled very calmly and with restraint."

The Indian military said Pakistan routinely violates Indian airspace in the area, claiming eight intrusions from May to July.

"The plane which was shot down had not come with peaceful intentions," Fernandes said.

Aziz, however, described the attack as a "blatant and unprovoked act of military aggression against an unarmed aircraft."

In Washington, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the U.S. embassies in the two countries were trying to determine what happened.

"Such incidents illustrate the need for the two countries to resolve their differences through dialogue," Rubin said. However, he said the United States would play no role for the time being in getting India and Pakistan to talk.

The latest confrontation began Tuesday when Indian ground radar detected the Pakistani plane, an Indian air force statement said. Indian aircraft scrambled to intercept it and signaled to the pilot to land at an Indian air base.

But instead, the Pakistani pilot turned his plane toward the Indian jet "in a hostile manner," according to the statement. An Indian MiG-21 fired a missile that slammed into the right engine of the Pakistani plane, the military said.

India said its helicopters had found the wreckage a mile south of the Pakistani border near Sir Creek, in an area of empty marshes called the Rann of Kutch.

The border between the Indian state of Gujarat and Pakistan's Sind province is not clearly marked at the mouth of Sir Creek, a shifting tidal channel that has been a source of conflict between the two countries.