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Annan: India, Pakistan Must Pull Troops Back - 2002-01-24

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has repeated his call for Pakistan and India to engage in military de-escalation along their tense border. Mr. Annan has said dialogue is the only way to find a sustainable resolution to the long-running dispute over Kashmir, which has caused two wars between India and Pakistan.

At a news conference in the Pakistani capital, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said there is an immediate need for Pakistan and India to withdraw most of the hundreds of thousands of troops facing each other along their common border. In addition, Mr. Annan wants both nations to make a sustained effort to resolve their differences over the disputed region of Kashmir.

"What is needed are two things: sustained and determined action against extremist armed groups of the kind announced by President Musharraf, and an equally sustained and determined dialogue between Pakistan and India to resolve their differences by peaceful means," Mr. Annan said.

Mr. Annan also praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's decision to crackdown on Islamic extremist groups.

India has accused Pakistan of supporting Pakistan-based militants of carrying out attacks on Indian soil.

On Tuesday, unknown gunmen attacked the U.S. Cultural Center in the Indian city, Calcutta, further fueling tensions. Pakistan has dismissed the suggestion that its intelligence service was involved in the attack.

Speaking at the same news conference as the U.N. Secretary-General, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said the situation along the border remains precarious.

"While we have noted the prevalent perception of diplomatic and political de-escalation, there is unfortunately little change so far in the concentration of forces on the ground," he said.

Mr. Sattar said Pakistan would be willing to withdraw some of its forces from the border if India were also to do so. He also said Pakistan is ready to meet India at the negotiating table, either one-on-one or through the United Nations.

India has consistently rejected the idea of bringing a mediator into talks with Pakistan to settle the Kashmir dispute.

The secretary-general will not be visiting India this week, because of scheduling problems. He is expected to visit the Afghan capital Kabul on Friday.