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UPDATE 2-Thousands of Indians flee Kashmir after security advisory: officials

Fayaz Bukhari

(Adds street scenes, quote; Pakistan, India allegations)

SRINAGAR, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Thousands of Indian tourists, pilgrims and workers have started leaving the disputed region of Kashmir, leaving for home after a security alert from the local government related to possible militant attacks, two government officials said on Saturday.

Indian security officials said on Friday said they had found evidence of attacks planned by Pakistani military-backed militants on a major Hindu pilgrimage in Kashmir.

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, the officials said.

A local government order issued later effectively called off the pilgrimage, asking the pilgrims and tourists to return home.

On Saturday, one 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.

"The advisory has led to panic among people and the visitors here. Kashmir has seen worst times but we as government officials don't know what is happening?," said another local government official.

In a mood of anxiety, people sought to stock up on essentials and there were long queues outside petrol pumps, ATMs and medical shops in Srinagar city, the summer capital of Jammu & Kashmir state.

FOREIGN TOURISTS

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

Britain and Germany issued advisories on Saturday to their citizens discouraging them from travelling to Jammu & 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.

Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, has long been a flashpoint between the two countries. Tensions flared after a vehicle laden with explosives rammed into an Indian police convoy on Feb. 14, killing 40 paramilitary policemen, and leading to aerial clashes between India and Pakistan.

'PARADISE ON EARTH'

India accuses Pakistan of funding armed militants, as well as separatist groups in India's portion of the region that are considered non-violent by international observers.

Islamabad denies the Indian accusation, saying it provides only diplomatic and moral support to the separatist movement.

On Saturday, Pakistan accused India of using illegal cluster bombs in the Kashmir region during shelling along the contested border. India denied those accusations.

The Indian advisory was a disappointment for pilgrims and tourists.

Kashmir touts itself as a "Paradise on Earth". Dal Lake - a favourite destination centuries ago for Mughal emperors escaping the summer heat of India's plains - and its famous houseboats, mountains and glaciers is a major attraction.

Prabakar Iyer, 45, had travelled to Srinagar from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru on Thursday with his family for a 10-day holiday, but they left on Friday night.

"I was staying in a houseboat on Dal Lake when the advisory was issued. I fail to understand why we are being asked to leave. Everything is normal here," he said.

Labourer Manjit Singh, a carpenter from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh who has been working in Kashmir for the last nine years, also left.

"I am not afraid but the government advisory has created panic and my family wants me back ... I will return if the situation improves," he said.

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinigar Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi and Alasdair Pal in Islamabad Editing by Aditya Kalra, Tom Hogue and Frances Kerry)