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US Authorizes Voluntary Departure For American Citizens in India

The United States has authorized the voluntary departure of diplomatic dependents and non-essential personnel from U.S. posts in India because of the potential for a further worsening of tensions between India and Pakistan. Britain, which has been working closely with the United States in efforts to defuse the crisis over Kashmir, has announced a similar evacuation.

The so-called "authorized departure" applies to several hundred dependents and non-essential staff members from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the American consulates in Mumbai, Chenai and Calcutta.

It means affected personnel wishing to leave will have their travel home paid for by the U.S. government. State Department officials have said they expect commercial airlines to be able to accommodate those leaving, and there are no plans for special charters or a military airlift.

A statement issued here again warned U.S. citizens to defer travel to India, saying that tensions between India and Pakistan have risen to serious levels and that the risk of intensified hostilities cannot be ruled out.

It said Americans who choose to remain in India despite the warning should avoid the India-Pakistani border region, including the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Punjab, as well as Jammu and Kashmir.

Officials here say about 60,000 U.S. citizens are resident in India, and thousands more are in the country at any given time as tourists or on business trips.

The "authorized departure" is a less-severe measure than the mandatory evacuation of non-essential U.S. personnel and dependents from Pakistan that was ordered in March.

That followed a grenade attack on a church in Islamabad frequented by foreigners that killed five people, including the wife of an embassy official and her daughter. Private U.S. citizens have also been advised to defer travel to Pakistan.

The decision on U.S. personnel in India came amid expressions of heightened concern from the White House and State Department about the danger of full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed South Asian powers.

President Bush Thursday took a tough line toward Pakistan, a critical ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, calling on President Pervez Musharraf to "live up to his word," and crack down on Muslin extremists crossing the "line of control" into Indian Kashmir.

Stepping-up U.S. efforts to defuse the crisis, Mr. Bush ordered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to add stops in India and Pakistan to the Middle East trip he begins next week.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will precede him to the area, with talks in Islamabad and New Delhi set for next Thursday and Friday.