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UN to  Evacuate Personnel From India, Pakistan

With the threat of war looming over South Asia, the United Nations has decided to evacuate the families of U.N. personnel from India and Pakistan.

Western diplomatic sources in Islamabad say the families of U.N. staffers in Pakistan and India have been ordered to leave both countries.

According to the sources, the decision to evacuate the dependents was made at U.N. headquarters in New York late Friday.

The first group is expected to leave Sunday. Officials here would not give exact figures, except to say that several hundred people in Pakistan and India are affected by the order.

The U.N. move follows similar decisions by other diplomatic missions in the Indian and Pakistani capitals. The United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Britain are among those countries that have scaled back their embassy staffs and urged their citizens to leave.

The diplomatic downsizing is due not only to the threat of war between India and Pakistan, but to increased activity by anti-Western militants in Pakistan.

India and Pakistan continue to lob both harsh rhetoric and artillery shells at each other, in an escalating feud over Kashmir. Both sides have dramatically increased troop deployments along the India-Pakistan border, and artillery and mortar duels are almost a daily occurrence across the so-called "Line of Control" that separates the Indian and Pakistani-controlled portions of Kashmir.

India claims Pakistan is training and dispatching Islamic militants to carry out attacks, and has threatened to take military action if Islamabad does not rein them in.

Pakistan publicly continues to deny training or arming the militants. However, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has pledged to stop any cross-border activity. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said he has seen indications that Pakistani authorities have at least given orders that the infiltration be stopped.

The threat of war in South Asia is all the more horrifying because both India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons. U.S. defense officials have been quoted as estimating that between nine and 12 million people would be killed in a worst-case scenario.

Diplomatic efforts are under way to defuse the crisis. President Bush has dispatched Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the region next week. The Indian and Pakistani leaders are both to attend a regional summit meeting in Kazhakstan, also scheduled for next week. Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani President Musharraf are not expected to meet, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is reported to be ready to engage in shuttle diplomacy between the two men.