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Antony refuses to set deadline for war memorial


New Delhi : As the nation celebrates the 13th anniversary of its victory in the 1999 Kargil war, Defence Minister A.K. Antony Thursday refused to set a deadline for a war memorial in the national capital, amidst demands for the same from several quarters.

Antony, who laid a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate here, however, said the government was making “comfortable” progress in its efforts to find a site for setting up the war memorial for thousands of Indian soldiers who had laid down their lives in wars and battles since 1947.

“Don’t ask any time limit, but things are progressing in a comfortable manner very well,” Antony told reporters after the simple ceremony in which chiefs of the three armed forces also laid wreaths.

“I can tell you that things are now progressing very well,” he said.

India lost 527 soldiers in the Kargil war that raged between May and July 1999 after Pakistani regulars occupied key heights in the Kargil sector of Jammu and Kashmir during the winters, when the Indian Army usually vacates these posts due to inhospitable cold conditions.

After the war, India successfully threw back the Pakistani regulars from the posts that were originally held by India overlooking the Srinagar-Leh highway along the line of control.

Regarding the victory, Antony said: “Not only for the forces, it is a historic day for the country as a whole. Today, we are paying homage to the sacrifice made by our jawans and officers to protect the honour of the country.”

The three armed forces had raised the demand for an India-built war memorial in the national capital as India Gate had been built by the British in the pre-independence era and the memorial for the unknown soldier there was originally meant for martyrs from the British Indian Army.

The defence minister, who was asked about his planned visit to Jammu and Kashmir, which is the first in the last one-and-a-half years, said he would start the two-day trip Friday and interact with soldiers at formations in forward areas.

“My purpose is to go to forward areas to meet our jawans and officers and see the situation,” he said.

Antony said he would also meet Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and chair a security forces unified headquarters meeting.

Army chief General Bikram Singh and Defence Secretary Shashi Kant Sharma will accompany the minister.

On a query on the demand for amending or partially withdrawing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that provide wide-ranging powers to the security forces in counter-insurgency operations, Antony refused to engage in any debate.

“I don’t want to say anything in public on this issue,” he said.

Ruling and opposition parties in Jammu and Kashmir, including the National Conference and People’s Democratic Party, have been making demands regarding the AFSPA.

While Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram is sympathetic to the demand for AFSPA amendment and its partial withdrawal, the defence ministry and the armed forces have been opposing it.