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Indian army chief calls leak of letter 'high treason'

30 March, 2012

NEW DELHI: India's army chief on Thursday said the leaking of a damning letter he wrote describing the army as unfit to fight a war was treason and urged "ruthless" treatment of the culprit.

Army Chief General VK Singh told Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the letter that India's tanks lacked shells to fire, its air defences were out-of-date and its forces "woefully short" of weapons.

"The leakage of the letter should be treated as high treason... and sources of the leakage should be found and dealt with ruthlessly," Singh, who is due to retire on May 31, said in a statement.

Indian Defence Minister AK Antony also slammed those responsible for releasing the letter, calling it an "anti-national" move that "only helps enemies". Antony said at a defence trade show in New Delhi that "we will take strongest action under laws after going into the root of the leak of the army chief's letter".

The opposition outcry over the letter, which was splashed across the media on Wednesday, forced Antony to promise parliament that the government would do everything "necessary for the security of the nation".

The general said in his letter, dated March 12, that India's air defences were "97 percent obsolete" and its tank fleet was "devoid of critical ammunition to defeat enemy tanks".

The army chief has been in a public dispute with the government over the date of his retirement and was again in the headlines earlier this week over a bribery scandal.

On Monday, Antony ordered a probe into allegations by General Singh that he had been offered a $2.8 million bribe to clear a sub-standard defence procurement deal.

The general's insistence that he had informed Antony left the defence minister facing questions as to why there was no earlier investigation into the alleged bribe offer.

The uproar is the latest blow for Prime Minister Singh's government, which has been paralysed by a series of graft cases, including the mis-selling of mobile phone licences estimated to have cost the treasury up to $39 billion.

India has one of the world's largest armies, with 1.2 million active soldiers and nearly another million in reserves. Over the last many years it has emerged as one of the world's leading defence spenders spurred by rivalries with both of its major neighbours Pakistan and China.

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