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THE WORLD

U.S. Advises Americans to Leave India

South Asia: Fears grow about a 'catastrophic' war along the Pakistan border. Britain, Canada and Australia also urge their citizens to evacuate.

June 01, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In an ominous reflection of fears over war in South Asia, the United States on Friday urged more than 60,000 Americans to leave India immediately and authorized the departure of nonemergency U.S. personnel as soon as possible.

The voluntary evacuation came as a classified Pentagon report estimated that as many as 12 million people would die and an additional 6 million would be injured in the first weeks of a war involving nuclear weapons on the volatile subcontinent.

A war would be "somewhere between terrible and catastrophic," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz predicted Friday at an Asian defense conference in Singapore.

The State Department warning also urged any Americans considering travel to India to defer their plans.

"Conditions along India's border with Pakistan and in the [Indian] state of Jammu and Kashmir have deteriorated. Tensions have risen to serious levels and the risk of intensified military hostilities between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out," the warning said.

The warning called on Americans to avoid all border areas between India and Pakistan, including the Indian states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab and the disputed Kashmir region, because of military movements, heavy artillery fire and the presence of terrorists.

"Terrorist groups, some of which are linked to Al Qaeda and have previously been implicated in attacks on Americans, are active there as well, and have attacked and killed civilians," the warning said.

Two of the three previous wars between India and Pakistan have been fought over Kashmir, a mainly Muslim region divided between the two nations by the so-called Line of Control following a 1971 conflict. Rebels in the section controlled by India have been fighting for an independent state or union with Pakistan. India is mostly Hindu, while Pakistan is mainly Muslim.

The U.S. warning was coordinated with Britain, Canada and Australia, which also advised their citizens and nonessential diplomats to leave India.

"The situation is dangerous," British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said, warning fellow citizens to avoid travel to India and Pakistan. "War is not inevitable, but it is important that we should exercise our duty of care as carefully as we can," he said Friday after returning from talks in South Asia.

About 20,000 Britons are estimated to be living in India and about 700 in Pakistan.

Canadian officials said they were trying to contact 6,000 of their citizens known to be living in India to warn them that they might become targets of politically motivated violence.

"Canada's involvement in the campaign against terrorism, specifically its military function, raises Canada's profile and significantly increases dangers for Canadians," the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Ottawa said in a statement.

The warnings came amid growing international pressure on India and Pakistan to not allow the relentless daily shelling on both sides of the border and attacks by Muslim extremists on Indian targets to escalate into war. Major powers from three continents and the United Nations appealed to the South Asian rivals to use restraint.

"We're putting a 100% full-court press on this," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Friday in an interview with the BBC. "We're going to work with friends around the world, all the leaders of the world, to do everything we can to keep this situation from turning into a conflict."

A strongly worded statement issued Friday by the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations called on Pakistan to take "concrete actions--in accordance with its commitments" to prevent Muslim extremists operating in territory under its control from infiltrating the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir and attacking Indian targets.

"We call on India and Pakistan to continue to work with the international community to ensure that there will be a diplomatic solution to the current crisis," said the statement from the Group of 8, which consists of the U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada, Germany, Italy, Britain and France.

The State Department said Friday that the United States had indications that Pakistani authorities had given instructions to stop the cross-border infiltration by radical Muslim groups, though it was not clear to whom the instructions were given.

Powell noted that the impact and consequences of those directions are still unclear.

"It's too early to say that it has stopped. And when and if it does stop, it must also stop permanently," he said, adding that the U.S. expects Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf "to use all of the authority he has to stop it and to keep it stopped so we can get this crisis behind us."

India Plays Down Threat of Immediate War

With world intervention growing, India sought Friday to calm fears.

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