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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 15:52 GMT 16:52 UK
Kashmir tensions 'easing' says Straw
A resident of an India-Pakistan border village
The Kashmir situation is still 'precarious'
Tensions between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir have "eased a little", Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has told MPs.

He stressed that while the risks of a conflict were "still significant", as both countries possess nuclear weapons, there were "grounds for some optimism".


The position is still precarious and terrorism is still a threat

Jack Straw
Mr Straw was updating the House of Commons on the latest developments in the region as the Indian government announced that it was restoring the right of Pakistani civilian aircraft to fly over India with immediate effect.

The name of the next Indian high commissioner to Pakistan was also being made public soon, he said.

The conciliatory moves come after intense diplomatic pressure on the nuclear rivals aimed at bringing them back from the brink of war.

Close militant camps

Mr Straw, who visited both India and Pakistan two weeks ago, told MPs: "Intense diplomatic efforts and decisions made in recent days by the governments of India and Pakistan give grounds for some optimism and the tensions have eased a little.

"Nonetheless, with a million men under arms on either side of the line of control in a high state of readiness, the risks of a conflict are still significant.

"With both sides in possession of nuclear weapons, the potential consequences for the region and for the wider world are devastating."

Jack Straw
Jack Straw will discuss Kashmir with foreign ministers in Canada
Mr Straw said in Islamabad he had told Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to take "visible, decisive and verifiable steps" to seal the line of control, to help restrain the violent activities of militant groups and to close the militant training camps on the Pakistan side.

In Delhi, he stressed that as Pakistan had demonstrated that it was taking the necessary steps to clamp down on terrorism, India should respond positively.

The US and UK governments have assessed that there appears to have been a significant reduction in incursions across the line of control since the end of May.

Lengthy talks

Mr Straw said he understood that the western and eastern fleets were returning to port.

"We have therefore seen both sides take first steps in the right direction, but the position is still precarious and terrorism is still a threat and the situation will continue to require the engagement of the international community for some time to come."


The situation in the region remains dangerous

Jack Straw
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has "spoken at length" to both sides and to US President George Bush and his Russian counterpart President Putin.

US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld will be visiting India and Pakistan this week.

Kashmir is likely to be on the agenda when Mr Straw meets other foreign ministers at a G8 gathering in Canada later this week.

European Union foreign ministers are also discussing the matter.

Developments

The Commons statement was the first chance Mr Straw has had to bring Parliament up to date following the MPs' return from their Whitsun recess.

A reduced level of visa and consular operations have been maintained in India, while a limited service resumed last Thursday, following its suspension, in Pakistan.

Mr Straw insisted: "The situation in the region remains dangerous.

"The problems between India and Pakistan cannot satisfactorily be resolved by military means. This would only lead to more suffering and potentially devastating consequences for everyone."

'Ice has broken'

Tory foreign affairs spokesman Richard Spring said the situation was a period of "greatest anxiety" for those with relatives in the region and he welcomed the changes to travel advice and diplomatic representation made by Mr Straw.

The prospect of war between the two nations appeared to have reduced, although shelling continued in Kashmir and a teenager was killed on the Pakistan side.

On Saturday, the Indian government said that Pakistan seemed to be making moves "in the right direction" and Pakistan said the "ice has broken".

Mr Straw last week told British citizens to leave India and Pakistan as soon as possible.


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10 Jun 02 | South Asia
08 Jun 02 | South Asia
07 Jun 02 | UK Politics
05 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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05 Jun 02 | South Asia
31 May 02 | UK Politics
02 Jun 02 | UK Politics
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