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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 14:43 GMT
Blair's 'peace trip' played down
Build up of forces on the India/Pakistan borders
Rising tensions have led to a military build-up
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has sought to play down the peace-making significance of Tony Blair's forthcoming trip to India and Pakistan.

Mr Straw told the BBC that the visit, which also takes in Bangladesh, had been planned a long time ago and was not a last-ditch mission to prevent war between the two nuclear powers.

Mr Blair is expected to head to India and Pakistan in the next few days with a message of restraint, as he resumes his post-11 September diplomatic globetrotting.

Britain, as the former colonial power, cannot be seen to be prescribing a solution

Menzies Campbell
Lib Dem foreign affairs
He will meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf. He is also believed to be visiting Bangladesh.

The Indian and Pakistani leaders are to attend a regional summit in Nepal later this week, but say they will not hold talks.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme: "There is no Blair peace plan which the prime minister can or should take out of his pocket."

He said that it was a bilateral dispute over Kashmir which dated back to the partition of India at the end of British colonial rule.

As such it could only be resolved by the two countries concerned, said Mr Straw, although Mr Blair would seek to help in any way he could to pave the way for bilateral talks.

Mr Blair has been in close contact with President George Bush, who sees the British prime minister's visit as an important opportunity for counselling both sides to avoid conflict.

Suicide attack

The danger of over-selling the peace-envoy element of the trip and appearing patronising was spelled out by Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman.

"The prime minister should urge restraint, but he should also make it clear that the issue of Kashmir has to be resolved between the two countries themselves. Britain, as the former colonial power, cannot be seen to be prescribing a solution," he said.

A map of Kashmir
Relations between the two neighbours - which have fought two wars over Kashmir - have deteriorated following a 13 December suicide attack against the Indian parliament.

India blamed Kashmiri separatists and accused Pakistani military intelligence of masterminding the attack.

Delhi has been demanding that Pakistan arrest members of militant groups it believes were behind the parliament attack.

Pakistan is reported to have arrested about 100 militants but India says the moves do not go far enough.

Mines laid

Both countries have been massing troops and armour on their border.

"All along the border there is a continuing Indian military build-up and concentration of forces far in excess of what we have seen in the past," Pakistani military spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

At least three people have been killed in landmine explosions in the past two days, Indian officials said.

Indian forces are reported to have laid mines along the border during the troop build-up.

'Call for dialogue'

UK officials, for security reasons, are releasing no more details of the trip for now.

Mr Blair is said to be working closely with United States President George Bush, who has been in regular contact with Delhi and Islamabad.

The crisis appears to have affected anti-terror operations in Afghanistan.

Pakistani troops involved in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, accused of masterminding the 11 September attacks, have reportedly been redeployed along the Indian border.

On Monday, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw urged Pakistan to take part in talks with India to avoid an all-out conflict.

Mr Blair's mission follows his successful shuttle diplomacy over the campaign in Afghanistan.

That included meetings with President Musharraf in October, and visits across Europe, the Middle East and the US.

The BBC's Jonathan Head
"A massive build-up of forces is preparing for war"
The BBC's Jill McGivering in Delhi
"India feels their concerns have been forgotten"
The BBC's Andrew Gilligan
"The hope is that western powers can exert a moderating influence"
Former Pakistani President Farooq Leghari
"War would be counterproductive for India"
See also:

02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Grenade kills one in Kashmir
01 Jan 02 | UK Politics
UK calls for Kashmir peace talks
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Divided views from border
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