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U.N. Orders Families Out of Pakistan

June 1, 2002

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Hundreds of U.N. staff members in Pakistan and India have been ordered to send their families home as fears grow of war between the nuclear-armed neighbors, a U.N. official said Saturday.

The military standoff at the India-Pakistan border persisted, with India’s defense minister saying there is little hope of a swift resolution. In Kashmir, the flash point of two previous wars between India and Pakistan, violence killed two teen-age boys Saturday.

``We are evacuating all the dependents of international staff in Pakistan as soon as possible,″ said Onder Yucer, U.N. security officer in Pakistan. He said the same order was given to U.N. staff in India.

Yucer, who also is resident coordinator for the U.N. System’s Operational Activities for Development in Pakistan, said ``the situation in totality″ prompted the departure order, including terrorist threats which have caused most embassies in Pakistan to reduce their staffing.

Yucer also refused to say how many U.N. international staff are headquartered in Pakistan, but said the mandatory order would affect ``several hundred.″ Some of these workers are connected with programs in Afghanistan, but live in Pakistan. There are 260 dependents of U.N. employees in India.

``This is not a product of any assessment that the situation is getting more dangerous by the minute, but an attempt to deal with the potential situation before it develops,″ said Feodor Starcevik, a spokesman for the United Nations in New Delhi.

Until the collapse of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and its replacement with the interim regime of Hamid Karzai, the U.N.’s entire Afghan operation was headquartered in Pakistan. Much of it still remains here.

U.N. officials in Islamabad were scrambling to find flights for their dependents and were considering chartering aircraft.

The departure order came a day after the United States announced a voluntary evacuation of its nonessential staff from India, concerned that the neighbors may be inching closer to war.

Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada released similar warnings to their nationals in India. Most already had issued similar advice for Pakistan, where there have been several deadly attacks targeting foreigners this year.

Much of the bad blood between India and Pakistan stems from their dispute over Kashmir, a divided Himalayan province which both claim in its entirety. Both countries tested nuclear weapons in 1998, raising the stakes in their long-standing rivalry.

Tensions rose after a deadly December attack on the Indian parliament that India blamed on Pakistan-based militants. The militants want to wrest Kashmir away from India.

The two sides mobilized a total of 1 million troops on their border after the Parliament attack. The dispute escalated further last month when militants raided an Indian army base in Kashmir, killing 34 people, most of them the wives and children of soldiers.

India accuses Pakistan of supporting the militants and is threatening military action if Pakistan does not stem the cross-border raids. Pakistan says it gives only moral support to the guerrillas and is doing all it can to stop terrorist attacks.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said Saturday there was no sign of a reconciliation with Pakistan.

``There is still no coming closer in sight,″ Fernandes told The Associated Press in Singapore, where he attended an Asian defense summit. On Friday, he said the situation on the border with Pakistan was ``stable″ despite almost daily exchanges of fire across the frontier.

In Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state, a 14-year-old boy, Bilal Ahmad Dagga, was killed and 14 civilians injured in a grenade explosion.

The grenade, which also injured two Indian soldiers, was lobbed into the street by suspected Islamic militants, the state police control room said.

In Nihalpora, 22 miles north of Srinagar, one unidentified guerrilla was killed in a gun battle with Indian paramilitary forces, according to Border Security Force officials. A teen-age boy was killed in the cross fire and two soldiers were wounded.

On the Pakistani side of the Line of Control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, two women were killed and eight people injured in cross-border shelling in the Kotli district, Pakistani army Brig. Istikar Ali Khan said.

He said 43 civilians have been killed and another 175 wounded in the recent escalation of tensions, while Indian firing was getting more intense every day.

``We silence the enemy guns when they fire unprovoked on the civilian population,″ Khan told reporters Saturday during a military tour on the border.

Casualty reports on both sides could not be independently verified.

President Bush has pressured Pakistan _ an ally in the war on terrorism but also a country that is home to many Muslim extremists _ to halt cross-border attacks.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday the Bush administration expects Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to use all his authority to stop the influx of extremists from Pakistani territory into India ``and to keep it stopped so that we can get this crisis behind us.″

Powell told the British Broadcasting Corp. it is too early to confirm whether the infiltration by militants had ended.

``When and if it does stop, it must also stop permanently,″ he added. ``It can’t be something where you turn a tap on or off.″

Pakistan has moved some troops away from the Afghan border, where they are helping U.S. forces in their campaign to flush out al-Qaida and Taliban militants. Islamabad is considering redeploying the soldiers to the Indian frontier.

Update hourly