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Blair Visiting South Asia in Peace Bid - 2002-01-02

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to visit South Asia in a bid to pull India and Pakistan back from the brink of war.

British government officials say Mr. Blair will deliver an appeal for restraint and dialogue when he visits New Delhi and Islamabad in the coming days.

India and Pakistan have massed their armies on the border, and thousands of civilians have fled the region. India accuses Pakistan of sheltering militant groups blamed for an attack that killed 14 people at the Indian parliament last month.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947, and the disputed Kashmir region remains a flash point between the two nuclear-armed countries.

British officials say Mr. Blair hopes to use Britain's influence as the former colonial power to set off a round of intensive diplomacy and defuse the tensions.

The British and U.S. governments have been coordinating diplomatic efforts to deal with the Indo-Pakistani crisis, which has included a call for Pakistan to crack down on Kashmiri militants.

Mr. Blair's office has not announced details of his itinerary because of security concerns.

Prime Minister Blair is expected to begin his South Asia tour with a visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh. He plans to see Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Dhaka newspapers say Mr. Blair could ask Bangladesh to contribute troops to a British-led international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan.