US Congressman Frank Pallone has condemned the "ethnic cleansing" of Pandits in Jammu and Kashmir and urged Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to keep the community's concerns uppermost in his mind during his upcoming visit to the state. "It is crucial that their [Kashmiri Pandits'] concerns be an important part of the prime minister's agenda during his visit to Kashmir next month," Pallone, also former co-chairman of the Congressional India Caucus, said in a statement on Tuesday. In a related letter to the prime minister, Pallone said: "The Islamic militants (in Kashmir) are promoting an agenda of ethnic cleansing. Their goal is to eliminate non-Muslims from Kashmir.

The constant fear of attacks by militants and the current living conditions [in refugee camps] have stripped the Pandits, a peace-loving people, of the most basic dignity that must be afforded to all human beings." Over 3, 50, 000 Kashmiri Pandits have left the Valley since 1947, the Democratic Congressman said, adding that Pandits must have the opportunity to return to the Valley under conditions that guarantee their safety. A day after attacking the Centre for not going to war with Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah on Tuesday said that de-escalation of military build-up should start immediately if Indian troops are not going to cross the border. "The time has come to take a decision. Either we move forward or call it a day as my state is the worst-affected by the tension at the border," he said after a meeting with Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani in New Delhi. "Hundreds of people have migrated from border villages starting from Hira Nagar (in Jammu region) to Kupwara (in Kashmir). We need to have a strong backing from the Centre to meet the challenge," Abdullah said.

He said that farmers would not be able to cultivate if the border build-up continues. Ask what the state government planned to help the families dislocated from their hearths and homes in border areas due to tension, Abdullah said, "We have been thinking on several issues including providing them with cash assistance." Pointing out that Pakistan continued to push in militants into the state and terrorist training camps across the border remain operational, Abdullah said that the militant attack on Raghu nath temple in Jammu was a glaring example of 'Islamabad's insincerity in improving relations with New Delhi'. "You have to teach Pakistan a lesson as they are unable to understand the message of friendship," he said. Abdullah said that military build-up at the border has reduced the army component of anti-militancy operations in the state and if the Centre was not willing to cross the border 'let them be allowed to save their hinterland from militants'. He criticised the Western nations, including the United States, for 'turning a blind eye' towards the 'nefarious designs' of Pakistan to de stabilise the country and said, "Terrorism is not confined to September 11 attacks. Several such incidents continue to happen in our country." Referring to the demand of some BJP and VHP members asking for his resignation, he said, "I did not become chief minister as per their choice nor am I going to resign at their whims.".