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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 15:23 GMT
War moves spread fear on border
Refugees
Many local people have already fled the border
By the BBC's Mike Donkin in Amritsar

As efforts at diplomacy between India and Pakistan continue - with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair making the latest attempt at softly-softly mediation - there is no doubting the preparations for war on both sides of the border.

On the Indian side, bunkers are being dug and troops reinforced - and many villagers have chosen to leave rather than get caught in the firing line.


This is the frontline now, and we're standing at the jaws of death

Indian villager
On one of the most sensitive border stretches in the Punjab, buglers herald what is meant to be a friendship ceremony at India's main border crossing with Pakistan.

At sundown, platoons from both armies march up to lower their national flags, flying side-by-side.

Now the salute is drowned out by opposing crowds, hurling slogans and abuse. Already the gates the soldiers usually shut just symbolically for the night are closed for real, the length of the border - and the Indian protesters insist their leaders must stand firm.

"If it leads to war, it's fine," says one demonstrator. "We are ready to fight for this country - there's no problem. They are endorsing fight on us. We will die for our land."

Digging in

Driving along a road just a few hundred metres from the border, soldiers can be seen tramping through the fields and preparing for war.

A stack of green land mines is being carried out to be buried.

Indian army trucks
The military build-up is continuing

They are taping out the lines and digging the holes one by one with picks. And just on the left, two camouflaged tanks have rolled into position behind what seems to be a freshly dug earth trench.

If diplomacy fails, this will be the frontline.

In the corner of one field, farmers squat to cut what little they can of a crop that should feed their cattle. Most of it is now dangerously off limits.

"We can't get food beyond that barbed wire over there," says one man. "All our land has been taken over by the army. These mines have been laid and we can't get at the food we are growing."

Churndan Singh, an elder in the village of Kullara, has stayed behind to look after the herd. The rest of the villagers have fled, their wagons and tractors piled high with furniture, bedding and their families.

'We are afraid'

Churndan is 72 years old and he has lived through all the bloody conflict with neighbouring Pakistan since partition. It was bad then, he says, and it looks bad now.

"What happened in the past was really terrible. We couldn't go out then because bombs could fall on us anytime. Now the Pakistani armouries are open again - they've put their tanks and guns in position and they've made their bunkers.


If you feel there is going to be a war tomorrow, you can't force people not to [leave]

Chief Secretary of the Punjab M K Arana

"We are afraid, so we're leaving," he says.

One of the few women who have stayed in Kullara keeps the cooking fire of cattle dung going by blowing through a pipe. Life has always been basic here, she says, but rarely so worrying.

"There's nobody left in this village and it's really frightening. The loneliness here is awful," she says. "It was so different when all the other villagers were here, but this is the frontline now, and we're standing at the jaws of death."

Reassurance

The Chief Secretary of the Punjab, N K Arora, has visited Kullara to offer the government's assurances that villages like these won't just be abandoned.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair hopes to promote dialogue
"Evacuation is a matter of personal choice and decision," he told the villagers.

"It's a question of perception of threat. If you feel there is going to be a war tomorrow, you can't force people not to [leave], he said.

Asked what the government's perception of the threat is at the moment, Mr Arana replies only that both civilians and the army are "fully prepared".

And as his motorcade returned him to the politics of this crisis, more of its victims were taking to the same road - a household with their goods and their goats in the tractor's trailers driving east, well away from the Pakistan border.

See also:

06 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Blair handles diplomacy hazards
04 Jan 02 | Americas
Powell urges Pakistan to do more
03 Jan 02 | South Asia
Musharraf seeks China's backing
06 Jan 02 | Media reports
Press spins Blair visit
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