Mass evacuation in Kashmir after threats against Hindu pilgrims

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 says.

Indian security officials on Friday said 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 ordinance 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.

On Saturday, a senior local 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 Hindu pilgrims and Indian tourists and the more than 200,000 labourers were leaving the region.

Hindu pilgrims trek through mountains to reach the holy Amarnath cave shrine
Hindu pilgrims trek through mountains to reach the holy Amarnath cave shrine. Photo credit: Reuters

Around 60 international tourists arrived in Kashmir on Saturday, however, the official said. The Indian advisory had cautioned tourists in general, but did not give any specific advice to foreign nationals.

On Saturday, Germany and the UK issued advisories discouraging their citizens from travelling to Jammu and Kashmir.

"Travelers staying in Kashmir (especially the Kashmir Valley and the Armanath Yatra Pilgrimage Route) are advised to leave Jammu and Kashmir," the German ministry of foreign affairs said.

The UK'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 February 14, killing 40 paramilitary policemen, and leading to aerial clashes between the two nations.

Reuters