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Government advises Swiss nationals to leave Pakistan

There have been widespread street protests in Pakistan against possible military strikes by the United States

(Keystone)

Swiss nationals are being advised to leave Pakistan amid concerns over the deteriorating security situation in the region. The United States has threatened to launch military strikes against Afghanistan unless the country's ruling Taliban hands over the suspected terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

Roland Fischer, the Swiss consul general in Karachi, said 31 people living in the city had been contacted and efforts were being made to reach the other 140 Swiss nationals known to be in Pakistan.

Fischer added that a number of families had already left the country and others were in the process of doing so. "Our own husbands, wives and children have left or will do so over the next few days," he said.

Twelve Swiss tourists who had arrived in Karachi would be leaving on Friday, he added.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry told swissinfo that the families of some Swiss embassy staff were also pulling out of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

No evacuation order

"There has not been an evacuation order, but some of the families of our embassy staff have decided on a voluntary basis to leave the country and we are fully supporting them and giving them travel assistance," said Markus Börlin, a spokesman for the ministry.

However Börlin stressed that the Swiss ambassador would remain in Islamabad with key staff and would be liasing closely with any Swiss who remained. He added that the embassy would be staying in constant touch with other embassies, mainly those from the European Union, to assess the situation."

As far as emergency procedures for evacuating any Swiss citizens who remain, the ministry said Switzerland did not have the capacity to conduct a military operation of this nature overseas.

Börlin explained that Switzerland would be obliged to turn to other countries for help in evacuating its citizens, if this became necessary.

The ministry has already advised Swiss citizens to avoid travelling to the Middle East due to the uncertain security situation there following the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York.

87 Swiss still missing

The ministry also announced on Wednesday that it was now concerned for the whereabouts of 20 Swiss who have been missing since last Tuesday's attacks in the United States, and who could be among the dead. In total, 87 Swiss are still unaccounted for.

Ambassador Walter Thurnherr said the missing were now being classified into three groups. In the first group were 20 people who were tourists or working in Manhattan, and who might have been caught up in the attack on the World Trade Center.

Descriptions of these people had now been passed on to the US authorities, and efforts were being made to find out if they had used their credit cards, added Thurnherr.

The second group consists of 20 other Swiss nationals who have not made contact with the authorities or their families, but who are not thought to have been in New York or Washington at the time of the attacks. Thurnherr said investigations were still continuing into the whereabouts of around 50 other Swiss.

The ministry revealed that its special hotline was receiving 400 to 500 calls a day, but the majority do not involve relatives trying to trace loved ones.

Adam Beaumont with agencies


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