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Several Nations Advise Diplomatic Personnel to Leave India - 2002-05-31

Several western nations, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia are advising non-essential personnel and dependents at their diplomatic missions in India to leave the country because of the danger of war between India and Pakistan. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi has stepped up its travel warning for Americans in the country - urging all private U.S. citizens to leave India as soon as possible.

Embassies of several western nations are urging their citizens to register at their missions, or consulates in the country, and leave India. Gordon Duguid, press attache at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi says all non-essential personnel at U.S. diplomatic missions in the country are being sent home. He also urges private U.S. citizens in India to leave as well.

"This is an authorized departure - which is voluntary," he said. "Individual officers and their family members will make the decision on whether or not they should leave. I must stress however the Department of State urges Americans to leave and Americans in the embassy who are not in emergency positions are also being urged to leave."

Mr. Duguid says the latest travel warning goes beyond the one issued on May 24 that urged private American citizens to consider leaving India. He says the latest warning urges them to leave.

Mr. Duguid says extra consular personnel will be on duty to assist with information requests but that for the time being, all departures both for mission staff and for private citizens will be on commercial flights. There are an estimated 60,000 U.S. citizens living in India.

The Indian government has yet to comment on the latest travel warnings from western embassies in New Delhi.

The travel warnings came on a day when senior Indian officials sought to downplay the tensions between India and Pakistan that have raised fears of a military conflict between the two countries. Speaking in Singapore, where he is attending a regional conference on terrorism and security, Defense Minister George Fernandes called the situation in South Asia stable.

"Troops have been on both sides in a kind of eyeball-to-eyeball situation for the past six months, so I do not think one needs to worry just now as what is likely to happen," he said.

In a briefing for reporters in New Delhi a senior Indian military official who asked not to be identified said that Indias tactical scenario for fighting a war with Pakistan did not include the use of nuclear weapons, saying India is totally committed to a policy of no-first use of nuclear weapons.

India is demanding that Pakistan stop what it calls the cross-border infiltration of militants into Indian Kashmir. Islamabad says it does not support the militants but will work to stop them from crossing into Indian territory. India controls two-thirds of Kashmir. Pakistan controls one-third. Two of the three wars the two countries have fought since independence in 1947 have been over the disputed territory.