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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 02:35 GMT
Thousands flee rivals' war moves
Hindus migrating from Indian-administered Kashmir
War-like rhetoric from both sides has heightened tension
Fear of war breaking out between India and Pakistan is prompting thousands of people from frontline villages to move to safer areas.

Residents in the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan have been moving their families and belongings out of range of Pakistani artillery.

Villagers have been watching the military build-up and listening to the rhetoric from both sides with mounting anxiety.

Some, however, said they would prefer to stay back and support the soldiers if a war does break out.

Cheers and hot tea

Many of them could be seen cheering military convoys as they move to the front.

Indian soldiers patrolling the Line of Control
The military build-up is said to be the biggest since 1971
They often stop military trucks and force their hospitality on the soldiers, offering them hot tea and home-cooked food.

The Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee, which manages Sikh historic shrines, said it is keen to set up free kitchens for the soldiers as well as the refugees.

Although migration from the border villages in Punjab has been going on for some time, there are no signs of panic - unlike the Kargil conflict in 1999.

This time the movement appears more systematic.

In most cases a few people have stayed behind in every house to tend the still unripe wheat crop.

Preparations on

In the western state of Rajasthan, the authorities say a few hundred people have shifted from their villages to nearby areas.

The administration in four border districts in the state had been asked to provide shelter for people.

Despite its official position of trying to reassure villagers to slow or stem the migration, the authorities in Punjab have also dusted down the state's civil defence plans.

Rusty air-raid sirens have been tested, repaired and - where necessary - replaced.

Village defence committees are being revived and local hospitals restocked with essential medical supplies.

Some defence experts say the military build-up along the Punjab border is the biggest since the 1971 India-Pakistan war.

But for many in the border villages who have been forced into a nomadic existence, the war has already begun.

The BBC's Jonathan Head
"Civilians have been told to prepare for the worst"
See also:

02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Blair on India peace mission
31 Dec 01 | South Asia
In pictures: The last train
26 Dec 01 | South Asia
US adds pressure on Pakistan
24 Dec 01 | South Asia
Pakistan freezes militant funds
31 Dec 01 | South Asia
India hands over 'most wanted' list
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