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    India Assures International Athletes of Safety after Terror Threat

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    India is assuring international sports competitors headed to the country that they will be safe, despite a purported warning by a militant commander for athletes not to visit the South Asian nation.

    India's home minister says his country will provide adequate security for upcoming sports competitions.  Palaniappan Chidambaram vows that terrorists will not dictate terms to India's government.

    "The government of India will provide full protection for every player, every coach, every official who participates in the forthcoming hockey, cricket and the Commonwealth Games," he said.

    The remark came after a Hong Kong-based Internet news site reported receiving a warning from a militant commander to the international community not to participate in the upcoming major sporting events in India.

    Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says his country is assessing the threat and wants further assurances from India before deciding whether to send its hockey team to New Delhi, where the Hockey World Cup is to begin February 28.

    "Indian authorities have pledged to implement strong security procedures for all upcoming sporting events in India, including the three mentioned," Rudd said.  "We, however, will be following this very, very closely."

    New Zealand and Pakistan also say they are reassessing whether to participate in the two-week hockey championship in wake of the new threat.

    Also mentioned in the threat are Indian Premier League cricket, which will have 60 matches in March and April, and the Commonwealth Games to be hosted by New Delhi in October.

    Asia Times Online
    says it received the e-mail claiming to be from Ilyas Kashmiri, leader of the 313 Brigade, also implying the group's involvement in last Saturday's bombing of a bakery in the Indian city of Pune, which killed 11 people.

    Analysts say the brigade is an operational arm of al-Qaida and linked to the Kashmir-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami which conducts terrorist acts as part of its campaign to push India out of the disputed region.

    The Indian home minister, during a one-day visit to Kashmir, reviewed the security situation there and discussed an amnesty proposal for young Kashmiri militants who renounce violence to return from the Pakistani side of the line of control and reunite with their families in Indian territory.

    Hundreds of young men crossed into Pakistani Kashmir in the last several decades to join militant groups there.

    Kashmir was partitioned when Britain gave India and Pakistan independence in 1947. That resulted in a still-unresolved territorial dispute which has triggered two wars between the neighbors and continuing occasional exchanges of artillery and small-arms fire across the Kashmiri line of control.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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