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Fernandes rings terror alert

Bangalore, March 21: In his first definitive statement since America launched its Baghdad blitz, defence minister George Fernandes today warned the war would encourage “terrorism with greater intensity” and ultimately threaten the security of several countries, including the US.

Speaking to officials after the inaugural flight of HJT-36, India’s intermediate jet trainer, he said: “I don’t have to elaborate on this. But one thing we will have to face not only in India but elsewhere, too, is terrorism not experienced so far.

“Iraq and the ongoing conflict has raised a number of questions for the future of our planet and for all those who have a differing opinion as a democratic polity.”

Fernandes, however, declined to elaborate his views at a news conference later. But he made a strong plea to end the war as early as possible.

Referring to A.B. Vajpayee’s repeated pleas to leaders, including President George W. Bush, to prevent war, he said: “The Prime Minister spoke out clearly to say these issues can be and must be resolved without getting into hostilities.”

He refused to go along with the stand taken by anti-war campaigners that Delhi had not taken a strong-enough position against Washington. “India’s stand was not soft but just and right,” he said. “We are readying ourselves for any humanitarian assistance that the people of Iraq would need in the aftermath of the hostilities,” he added.

Fernandes said one of the biggest casualties of the Iraq war was the UN. “The institution, which came into existence after the Second World War to create a just world, has been undermined by the might of the US,” he said.

Help for home-bound

The Central Board of Excise and Customs is making special arrangements at international airports, including expeditious clearing of baggage, for Indians returning to the country. According to a board circular issued today, the chief commissioners of customs of airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Calcutta, Cochin, Ahemdabad, Bangalore and Hyderabad have been advised to deal with Indians coming back home in a “humanitarian manner”.

“What we are seeing is the might of the most powerful military and economic power unleashed against a country where the population is just over 20 million. The sanctions (against Iraq) have led to the death of one million children and 700,000 adults for lack of nutrition,” he said. “If this is the kind of world that is going to evolve, then security matters will gradually start emerging.”

Asked if the US was behaving like a ‘big bully’, he said: “Developments convey their own messages and I don’t think one needs to dwell on it. Some helplessness is on display. Nations like Germany, France and Russia could not get the UN Security Council to take a decision to uphold the UN charter.”

But Fernandes was quick to add that varying views on the war would not affect relations with the US. He said the government was against boycott of US goods to press home the anti-war message. “Those who are talking of boycotting (US goods) have nothing to do with the government,” he said.

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