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U.S. Embassy in Pakistan retains scars a year after mob burning

By ASRAR AHMAD

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The scorch marks are a daily reminder and floors threaten to buckle, but U.S. Embassy employees in Islamabad are trying to forget the day a mob sacked their building and nearly burned them to death.

The destruction of Nov. 21, 1979, triggered an angry response from Washington, which criticized Pakistani authorities for taking hours to rescue the Americans.

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At least two students, a U.S. Marine guard and one Pakistani employee of the embassy were killed in the initial stages of the seige. The U.S. International Communications Agency buildings in neighboring Rawalpindi and Lahore, 160 miles southeast, also were burned.

The mob attack came just 17 days after the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the initial taking of 63 American hostages by Iranian Moslem militants. In the space of a month, an angry mob attacked a U.S. consulate in India, bombs damaged the U.S. Embassy grounds in Thailand, and demonstrators sacked and burned the U.S. Embassy in Libya.

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The State Department ordered U.S. embassies in 11 Moslem countries to 'voluntarily' evacuate non-essential diplomats, businessmen and dependents.

U.S.-Pakistani relations have a history of ups and downs and probably would have dipped to another low point after the burnings, but then a month later Soviet forces moved into nearby Afghanistan.

Pakistan suddenly needed outside support and Washington realized the South Asian nation was vital in its effort to protect the Persian Gulf and Middle East from the Soviet military.

If the diplomats here are still bitter about the events of a year ago, they have learned to hide their feelings.

'The relations are very congenial and pretty good, reflecting a general state of improvement,' said a senior U.S. diplomat.

'Pakistan and America are maintaining friwr6P96:wPwr best of relationships,' said a Pakistani foreign office official.

Paksitan President Mohammad Zia ul-Haq emphasizes sound relations with Washington. 'We have had our differences,' but both nations have 'many shared objectives in this region and in the world at large,' said Zia during a Fourth of July celebration this year.

Although the Pakistan government ordered an immediate inquiry into the incident, it has never released its findings.

Everyone agrees the burning of the embassy and other U.S. buildings was the result of a grave misunderstanding.

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An unsubstantiated report that the United States was involved in the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest of Moslem shrines, led to a violent raid by more than 20,000 angry Pakistanis.

In practically no time, an iron gate at the embassy was uprooted, scores of diplomatic cars were set ablaze, and students made a bonfire out of the American stars and stripes.

Some 100 embassy employees eventually had to lock themselves in the building's vault, the last safe place from the mob. With smoke pouring into the heated room, they later said they were only minutes from death when Pakistan security forces finally rescued them.

Pakistan said it would finance the entire cost of rebuilding and repairing the scarred buildings.

The embassy, spread over 30 acres, was built in 1973 at a cost of $23 million and probably would cost $40 million today. The ICA buildings in Rawalpindi and Lahore would cost more than $1 million.

Embassy officials said Washington has the tenders for repairs or rebuilding, but no decision has been sent. They said they were unaware of any funds appropriated by the Pakistan government.

A Pakistani official said, 'We are talking,' but would not elaborate.

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More than 600 Americans, including men, women and children, were flown back to the United States after the burning incident. Many of the same families have returned and the Pakistan government has taken special measures to protect them and the foreign missions.

Both the embassy and the ICA buildings function normally, but the charred outside bricks remain.

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