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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 17:39 GMT
Blair urges restraint over Kashmir
Cherie, Tony Blair and Bangladesh's Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.
Cherie and Tony Blair after arriving in Dhaka
Nyta Mann

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair urged India and Pakistan to show calm and restraint as he arrived in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka at the start of a week-long trip to South Asia.

Mr Blair told journalists travelling with him that he and US president George Bush had discussed at length the crisis over Kashmir which had brought nuclear powers India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

He said he had no blueprint for peace in Kashmir, but added that he and Mr Bush believed it a "very serious issue with potentially far reaching and damaging consequences if the tension gets out of hand".

"The most important thing is to try to exert as strong a calming influence as possible on a situation that is obviously potentially very serious in its consequences for the stability of the region, and of the wider world," Mr Blair said.

"I can't solve the Kashmir problem just by going to India and Pakistan. But I hope by putting views on behalf of everybody in the international community, we can have a calming influence," he added.

Peacekeeping role

He said that the Bangladesh leg of his trip was important on two main counts.

The first was to see how the aid programme - the UK's second biggest - was being spent.

The second was to see if Bangladesh might play a part in the peacekeeping plans for Afghanistan.

The visit comes as fresh violence in Kashmir threatens to derail diplomatic moves to ease military tensions between the two countries.

One policeman was killed and more than 20 other people were injured on Wednesday in grenade attacks near the state assembly in the Kashmir summer capital Srinagar, police there said.

There has also been more violence at the Line of Control between the countries in Kashmir with six Pakistani soldiers reported killed.

Mr Blair will meet Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf.

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

Landmine explosions

Relations between the two neighbours - which have fought two wars over Indian-administered 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.

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

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

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.

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.

The BBC's Jonathan Charles
"Both sides exchanged mortar fire today"
The BBC's Nick Robinson
"Tony Blair arrives in a region feared to be on the brink of war"
See also:

03 Jan 02 | UK Politics
Analysis: Blair's delicate task
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