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Troops deploy to border amid growing tensions

Video by Luke BROWN

Latest update : 2008-12-27

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has summoned military chiefs for talks while Pakistan redeploys thousands of troops to its border with India as tensions continue to mount in the wake of deadly attacks last month in Mumbai.

AFP- Pakistan again said Saturday it did not want war with India, as the international community tried to defuse tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours after Islamabad moved troops to the border.
   
The White House called for calm amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in both Islamabad and New Delhi aimed at easing already badly strained ties, one month after the Mumbai attacks, which India has blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
   
"We don't want to have aggression with our neighbours. We want to have friendly relations with our neighbours," Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said at his official residence in remarks broadcast on state television.
   
"I assure you once again that we will not act. We will only react," he added, as he led a special prayer ceremony in honour of two-time former premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated one year ago in a gun and suicide attack.
   
On Friday, Pakistani officials said the military had moved troops from the tribal areas near Afghanistan, where they are fighting Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, to the eastern border with India as a "minimum security" measure.
   
The senior security and defence officials described the troop movements as "limited" but the news set off alarm bells in New Delhi, where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summoned his military chiefs for a strategy session.
   
India also advised its nationals to avoid travel to Pakistan, saying it was unsafe for them to be in the country.
   
In Washington, the White House sought to restore calm between the South Asian neighbours, which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir.
   
"US officials are in touch with both the Indians and Pakistanis. We continue to urge both sides to cooperate on the Mumbai investigation as well as counterterrorism in general," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told AFP.
   
"We also do not want either side to take any unnecessary steps that raise tensions in an already tense situation."
   
Russia's foreign ministry said Saturday it was "extremely concerned by the news that on both sides of the border there is a build-up of troops and military equipment".
   
"Russia calls on India and Pakistan to show the maximum restraint and not allow the situation on the border to develop into one of force," it added.
   
China and Iran have also called for calm, with their foreign ministers consulting with both India's Pranab Mukherjee and Pakistan's Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Mukherjee also met with his Saudi counterpart.
   
Both Islamabad and New Delhi have repeatedly said they do not want war and have called on the other to tone down the rhetoric but warn they would act if provoked.
   
Mukherjee Saturday again called on Pakistan to do more to crack down on Lashkar-e-Taiba, the banned militant group that New Delhi says masterminded the Mumbai attacks, which left 172 people dead including nine of the 10 gunmen.
   
"I appeal to Pakistan and Pakistani leaders -- do not unnecessarily try to create tension," Mukherjee said in the eastern Indian town of Behrampur.
   
"Do not try to deflect the issue. A problem has to be tackled face to face. Evading a problem will not help to get rid of it."
   
Islamabad has said it is willing to cooperate with India in investigating the carnage but says New Delhi has offered no solid proof that Pakistani nationals were involved.
   
India and Pakistan came to the brink of a fourth war after an attack on the Indian parliament in late 2001 -- a strike New Delhi also blamed on Lashkar-e-Taiba.
   
Both sides deployed hundreds of thousands of troops to the common border but they eventually pulled back following intense international mediation.
   
On Friday, Pakistani officials said a "limited number of troops" -- local media put the figure at 20,000 -- had been moved to the eastern border near India, and leave had been suspended for armed forces on active duty.
   
"We do not want to create any war hysteria but we have to take minimum security measures to ward off any threat," a defence ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
   
Any major shift of Pakistani troops out of the tribal areas would likely spark concern in Washington and other Western capitals, as it could open the door to more cross-border militant attacks on foreign forces in Afghanistan.
 

Date created : 2008-12-27

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