THE discovery of a large quantity of weapons mysteriously dropped by a Russian-made plane in eastern India has triggered a major government review of air security.
The arms were apparently dropped on Dec. 17 by parachute from an Antonov AN-26, a Russian-made twin turboprop short-haul transport aircraft.
Indian Home Minister S.B. Chavan told reporters the finger of suspicion pointed at Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence. He did not give details, but the AN-26 had apparently come from the Pakistani city of Karachi when it dropped the arms. Police in West Bengal, where the drop was made, speculated the arms could have been meant for Naxalites, Maoist guerrillas fighting for land rights in the area.
The arms drop has embarrassed Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao and threatens to become an issue in elections due by June. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition party, has demanded firm action.
The AN-26 believed to have made the drop was forced down in Bombay on Dec. 23 while it was on a return flight from Phuket in Thailand via Madras to Karachi. Authorities in Delhi are still holding a second AN-26, which was ordered to land on Dec. 24 while on a flight to Kathmandu.
Six Latvians and a British member of the crew ordered down in Bombay were charged with sedition and conspiracy and transferred on Tuesday to Calcutta, the center of the investigation in eastern India, where they are expected to face trial.
A major hunt is on for the copilot of the plane, a New Zealander who gave airport officials the slip soon after the aircraft landed and is reported to be one of the organizers of the operation.
Officials said 231 AK-47 and AK-51 rifles had been recovered around the town of Purulia where the drop was made. On Monday, a house-to-house search was ordered to recover arms that villagers might have collected. Police said more than 17,000 rounds of ammunition, eight rocket launchers, 80 anti-tank grenades, and seven 9-mm pistols had been recovered.