SRINAGAR • Thousands of Indians have started leaving the disputed region of Kashmir after the local government issued a security alert related to possible militant attacks in the area, a senior government official said yesterday.
Indian security officials said last Friday that they had found evidence of attacks planned by Pakistani military-backed militants on a major Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir.
The security officials said a mine with Pakistan ordnance markings was among caches of ammunition retrieved following intelligence reports of likely attacks on routes used by devout Hindus who trek to the region's holy Amarnath cave every year.
A local government order effectively called off the pilgrimage, asking the pilgrims and tourists to return home.
Yesterday, a senior government official in Kashmir said the advisory had caused panic and led to the departure of thousands of tourists, pilgrims and labourers.
The official did not give a specific number, but he said most of the 20,000 pilgrims and Indian tourists, and more than 200,000 labourers were leaving the region.
Around 60 international tourists arrived in Kashmir yesterday, however, the official said.
LEAVE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
Singaporeans currently in Kashmir are advised to leave as soon as possible. While awaiting departure, do remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities.
SINGAPORE'S MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS, in its advisory.
The Indian advisory had cautioned tourists in general, but did not give any specific advice to foreign nationals.
Singapore, Germany and Britain issued advisories to their citizens.
"Singaporeans currently in Kashmir are advised to leave as soon as possible. While awaiting departure, do remain vigilant and follow the advice of local authorities," Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in its advisory.
"Singaporeans should defer all non-essential travel to Jammu and Kashmir in India, given the uncertain security situation there. Singaporeans travelling to other parts in India should continue to take all necessary precautions to ensure their personal safety," it added.
Germany's ministry of foreign affairs said: "Travellers staying in Kashmir (especially the Kashmir Valley and the Amarnath Yatra Pilgrimage Route) are advised to leave Jammu and Kashmir."
Britain's foreign office advised against all travel to Jammu and Kashmir, with the exceptions of travel by air to Jammu and within the city, and within the region of Ladakh.
Tensions have run high in the mountainous region since a vehicle laden with explosives rammed into an Indian police convoy on Feb 14, killing 40 paramilitary policemen, and leading to aerial clashes between India and Pakistan.
The advisory has left the fleeing tourists and pilgrims disappointed.
Kashmir touts itself as a "paradise on earth", with Dal Lake - a favourite destination centuries ago for Mughal emperors escaping the summer heat of India's plains - and its famous houseboats, mountains and glaciers a major attraction.
Mr Prabakar Iyer, 45, travelled to Srinagar from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru last Thursday with his family for a 10-day holiday, but they returned last Friday night.
"I was staying in a houseboat on Dal Lake when the advisory was issued. I fail to understand why we are being asked to leave. Everything is normal here," he said.