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Pakistan And India Agree To Open Kashmir Border Crossings

A Pakistani Kashmiri man watches a broken bridge in Neelam Valley some five kilometers from Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan administered Kashmir 30 October 2005. Pakistan and India agreed to an unprecedented opening of their heavily militarized border in disputed Kashmir to help victims of the devastating October 8 earthquake. AFP photo by Asif Hassan.
By Zeeshan Naqash
Muzaffarabad, Pakistan (AFP) Oct 30, 2005
Pakistan and India agreed Sunday to an unprecedented opening of their border in disputed Kashmir to help victims of the devastating earthquake, a move welcomed by villagers on both sides of the heavily militarised frontier.

The agreement came a week after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf proposed opening the Line of Control dividing the two regions to allow the two-way movement of Kashmiris to help millions left homeless by the October 8 disaster.

More than 54,000 have been confirmed dead in Pakistan, mainly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and around 1,300 in the Indian-controlled part of the Himalayan region since the 7.6 magnitude quake.

"The two sides agreed to open crossings at five points across the LoC," said a joint statement after lengthy talks in the Pakistani capital Islamabad between Indian and Pakistani officials.

Crossing points will be opened indefinitely at Nauseri-Tithwal, Chakhti-Uri, Hajipur-Uri, Rawalakot-Poonch and Tattapani-Mendhar from November 7.

People would be allowed to cross the border on foot because of the lack of available transport, the joint statement said.

"It was further agreed that priority for crossing would be accorded to members of divided families on either side of the LoC," the statement said.

The LoC had been completely closed since it was established as a ceasefire line in 1949 until April this year, when a trans-Kashmir bus service was relaunched after almost six decades.

The two sides also agreed that relief items, with prior information and acceptance, could be sent across the LoC and handed over to local authorities at the crossing points.

The statement said Pakistan appreciated Indian aid for earthquake victims. India has pledged 25 million dollars in response to a United Nations appeal.

"This is the best gift both the governments can give us," said Mohammad Asif from the border village of Tangdaar in the Indian sector.

Like many others he still has no idea whether his relatives on the other side of Kashmir are alive or not. But now he can go and find out.

"I will definitely go and meet my uncle, who is a tailor in Pakistan. I have never met his family and we got a letter from him a month ago. I do not know whether he and his relatives are alive or not," Asif told AFP.

Muhammad Ikram Sheikh, 30, a resident of Chinari village on the Pakistani side, said he hoped that the opening of the frontier would allow his family to temporarily seek shelter with relatives on the other side.

A tentative peace process between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan began last year and the momentum appears to have been on the rise since the earthquake. Groups opposed to the peace moves came under suspicion after three blasts killed 61 people in New Delhi on Saturday. Pakistan denounced the bombings as an act of "criminal terrorism" and called for a thorough investigation.

The two countries have fought three wars since independence in 1947, two of them over Kashmir. India repeatedly blames Pakistan for allowing Muslim militants to enter its sector of the divided region.

The United Nations secured aid pledges worth more than half a billion dollars at an emergency conference in Geneva on Wednesday. But UN officials in Islamabad have said much of that was for the future and ignored the need for immediate cash.

Jordan's Queen Rania, who visited the quake-hit region of Muzaffarabad in Pakistani Kashmir on Saturday, urged the world to respond immediately.

The queen, who brought with her a planeload of relief supplies, visited a makeshift hospital in Muzaffarabad and a tent school in nearby Narul village.

The queen warned that if the world did not "act now, thousands more innocent people are going to die. I am specially worried about the plight of the thousands of orphaned and injured children."

She said the international response to help victims was "not enough."

President Musharraf has said Pakistan would need billion of dollars for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the quake victims, many of them at serious risk because of the approaching winter in the rugged Himalayan region.

Helicopter relief operations have continued uninterrupted for the past one week but a wave of aftershocks has added to worries for the survivors.

related report
Tired Of Waiting, Kashmir Villagers Rebuild Homes Patibagh, India, Oct 30 (AFP) -- Left to fend for themselves, earthquake survivors in the Kashmiri hamlet of Patibagh have started to hammer down broken walls and collect wooden beams from the debris to build shelters that will keep them alive during the looming icy winter.

by Jay Shankar

All the mud-brick houses in Patibagh, home to about 600 people, were wrecked by the killer quake. The village is situated in Tangdaar, 205 kilometers (127 miles) northwest of the Indian Kashmir summer capital Srinagar.

Many survivors are still out in the cold without a tent and food rations are running low. There is not a single non-governmental organisation in sight to provide relief or shelter and the village is entirely dependent on the government and the Indian army.

Abdul Kabir, 58, atop his destroyed house, directs his relatives as they salvage whatever beams they can while his wife and daughters help them to pile up the logs.

"There are no labourers left in this place. Even if there is one I cannot afford them," said Kabir, dressed in torn clothes, his hands soiled with the soot of the wooden logs he helped bring down from the kitchen roof.

"I fear for the lives of my family as winter is fast approaching. It is next to impossible to make a house within the next two months," he told AFP.

Tangdaar, the border village with Pakistan, faced heavy shelling during the India-Pakistan military stand-off in 2001. Its neighbouring districts witness frequent militant attacks.

Due to heavy snowfall the village is cut off from the rest of Kashmir from November to February every year.

"This is our life story. Living from one disaster to another. There are not many people who want to listen," said Mohammad Farid, Kabir's relative.

The village has no telephones and there is an acute shortage of power. Fresh landslides are being triggered by aftershocks and people are moving into the fields.

During the day villagers queue up at government offices to collect monetary relief. Shopkeepers whose stores have been flattened have started selling their wares in tents set up on the dusty streets.

Local authorities said the government has distributed 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of rice and 40,000 rupees (888 dollars) to some of the villagers in Patibagh. The Indian military also pitched in with some tents.

"Only half the villagers got tents and there is an acute shortage of kerosene," said Kabir's neighbour Abdul Rashid. "We decided unless we help each other to build our homes we will not survive. Here snow falls to about eight feet (2.5 metres)."

"What the government gave is a pittance. To reconstruct my home I need about 200,000 rupees. Now because of the quake I cannot work in my farms. The choice is between going hungry and making a house. So we decided to spend as little on the house and keep the rest for emergency rations," Rashid said.

"The Indian government is keen to help Pakistani victims without knowing there are people in their region who are about to die," he said.

The Indian government has offered 25 million dollars to help Pakistanis affected by the quake.

The Kashmir government said it was "encouraging" to see survivors rebuilding their homes as the administration was over-stretched.

Abdul Khandy, District Collector of Tangdaar, said the government has spent 150 million rupees on relief in the region and pleaded for more time for essential materials to reach all the villagers.

"It is a cumbersome job," Khandy told AFP. "Our job is to motivate and provide the essentials. The villagers must show some enthusiasm and start making their homes instead of sitting idle and waiting for help," he said.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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$580M Aid Pledges For Pakistan Sow Confusion For UN
Geneva, Switzerland (AFP) Oct 26, 2005
International donors on Wednesday promised an additional 580 million dollars (480 million euros) in assistance following the earthquake in Pakistan, sowing confusion among UN officials who wanted something firmer.

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