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'Air turbulence' over Agni launch

Agni III test forces an Indonesian passenger plane to turn around and head home, report Nilova Roy Chaudhury and Madhur Singh.

world Updated: Apr 14, 2007 02:36 IST

Indonesia reacted angrily on Friday to Thursday's launch of India's Agni-III missile, claiming that a scheduled flight of its national carrier, Garuda, en route to Saudi Arabia, had been endangered by it.

But the Indian government claimed civil-aviation authorities had notified concerned air traffic controllers (ATCs) across the region, including Jakarta, about the proposed missile launch.

"India's missile programme follows requisite safety measures," said Navtej Sarna, spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs. "A notice was sent a week ago by the civil-aviation authorities to Jakarta and other ATCs in the region, giving window dates, danger times, zone and height."

The Garuda airliner was forced to return to Jakarta. When asked if the Indonesian authorities had formally complained to India about the near miss, Sarna said they had not. He was only reacting to news reports, he said.

But the Indian ambassador to Indonesia, Navrekha Sharma, maintained to the Hindustan Times that the Indonesian government had indeed lodged a complaint with the Indian embassy.

"It will be surprising if they were not informed, as these are routine procedures," she said. "However, we will take appropriate action."

Contrary to official claims that flights were not endangered and adequate notice was given prior to Agni-III's launch, reports from Chennai said an Air India Express flight from Singapore to Chennai via Tiruchirapalli also had to return to Singapore because the missile was being tested.

According to agency reports from Jakarta, the Indonesian foreign ministry on Friday demanded an explanation from New Delhi.

"We will summon India's diplomat here soon to seek official clarification," ministry spokesman Kristiarto Legowo said following India's test-launch. "We have to make sure this does not happen in the future."