Pakistan airlifts Japanese tourists out of Gilgit

The Pakistani government dispatched a military aircraft Sunday to airlift 120 foreign tourists, including 77 Japanese, from a northern region where sectarian violence has left them stranded since early this month.

Japan’s embassy in Islamabad requested the help from Pakistan once it became clear the region had become unsafe, transport links were broken and food at some hotels was running short.

The 77 Japanese are now at various hotels in Gilgit and nearby areas and the embassy said no one appears to be suffering from any illness.

Gilgit is a regular jumping-off point for treks and climbing in the massive Karakoram and Himalaya mountain ranges in northern Pakistan and is quite popular with tourists and climbers from many countries.

The world’s second highest peak, K2, is in the Karakoram Range as are other 7,000 to 8,000 meter mountains.

Gilgit has been under a curfew since Wednesday after sectarian attacks left several people dead and many more injured.

Tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims have plagued the area for years, but only in recent weeks has serious violence once again erupted.

The embassy in Islamabad has issued a travel advisory suggesting anyone heading to the region assess the degree of risk and to decide on the need to go there “carefully.”

According to Nihonbashi Travellers’ Club Co. in Tokyo, about a dozen people on a tour have been stuck in nearby Hunza, but transport is being arranged for them to return to Islamabad.