India ‘completely safe’, it says after terror warning (Roundup)

June 4th, 2009 - 10:10 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram New Delhi, June 4 (IANS) India Thursday conveyed its objections to the US over a travel advisory that warned of a terror threat across the country and asserted that it was “completely safe.”
This was conveyed to the US when Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon met Charge D’ Affaires A. Peter Burleigh in his office.

“I want to reassure everyone that India is a safe country. If any country has a problem, we will address their security concerns bilaterally,” said External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram also rejected the advisory that has the potential to deter western tourists from visiting the country.

“I don’t think there is any justification for the advisory… India is a completely safe country. India is a safe place, it is safer than any other country in the world. Thousands of tourists come to India and we look forward to welcoming them,” said Chidambaram.

They were reacting to an ‘Urgent Warden Message’ posted on the US embassy site, urging its citizens living in or travelling to India to practise good security, including maintaining a heightened situational awareness and low profile. It said terror attacks were a serious and growing threat. The advisory, issued June 2, also applied to Pakistan.

The US, however, defended the advisory and sought to downplay it.

Larry Schwartz, minister (counsellor for public affairs) in the US embassy, said the advisory was based on reports in the Indian media that spoke about imminent terror attacks in the country. “It’s justified. The advisory accurately reflects perception of terror threat in India,” Schwartz said.

India is also upset that the advisory tends to cloud public perception by equating India with Pakistan where the military is waging an offensive against the Taliban militants, reliable sources said.

The advisory, India fears, can hit the inflow of tourists that was picking up after a down-slide following the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai that India says was perpetrated by Pakistani militants.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony, whose home state Kerala is a hot favourite with tourists, said: “India is the safest country.”

“We will ensure the security of our foreign guests. A lot of internal and external security measures (are being taken) for the safety of tourists,” Minister of State for Tourism Sultan Ahmed said at a function here.

Ahmed said although after the Mumbai terror attack, the number of tourists coming to India had fallen, it was now slowly going up.

“Ever since the Mumbai blasts the number of tourists visiting India had decreased. But since May this year the numbers have started going up,” he told reporters.

About 5.08 million tourists visited India in 2007, recording a growth of 14.56 percent. But since January, there has been a fall in numbers. There was a 17.6 percent dip recorded that month with 487,262 foreign tourists coming to the country.

However, in April, some improvement was witnessed with 370,756 tourists visiting India - a dip of just 3.5 percent.

The US advisory posted on the website Tuesday specifically asked Americans in India to be vigilant at all times, monitor local news reports and vary their routes and times while carrying out daily activities.

“Americans should consider the level of security present when visiting public places, including religious sites, or choosing hotels, restaurants, entertainment and recreation venues,” the advisory warned.

“As terror attacks are a serious and growing threat, US citizens are urged to always practise good security, including maintaining a heightened situational awareness and a low profile.

“The media attention of and public reaction to the Mumbai attack could prompt other terrorist incidents. Future attacks may also target public places frequented by Westerners, including in large cities and tourist areas such as Goa.

“The US mission is concerned that increased political tension between Pakistan and India may further complicate travel in areas near their already-sensitive border.

“In addition, the Department of Defense has increased its security requirements for all its employees visiting India.”

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