Pakistan, India agree to open border crossing

Pakistan and India agreed on Sunday to an unprecedented opening of their heavily militarised border in disputed Kashmir to help victims of the devastating October 8 earthquake.

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

More than 54 000 have been confirmed dead in Pakistan, mainly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and about 1 300 in the Indian-controlled part of the Himalayan region since the 7,6-magnitude quake. Some reports put the death toll as high as 88 000.

“The two sides agreed to open crossings at five points across the Line of Control,” said a joint statement published after lengthy discussions in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, between officials from India and Pakistan.

Both sides agreed crossing points will be opened at Nauseri-Tithwal, Chakhti-Uri, Hajipur-Uri, Rawalakot-Poonch and Tattapani-Mendhar for an indefinite period from November 7.

People will be permitted to cross the border on foot because of the lack of available transport infrastructure, 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 Line of Control,” the statement said.

The Line of Control had remained 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 Line of Control and handed over to local authorities at the crossing points.

The statement said Pakistan appreciates assistance provided by India for the earthquake victims. India has pledged $25-million in response to a United Nations appeal for funds.

Meanwhile, Pakistan denounced bombings on Saturday in New Delhi that killed at least 61 people as an act of “criminal terrorism” and called for a thorough investigation.

No one claimed responsibility for the attacks, but groups opposed to the peace process between Indian and Pakistan immediately came under suspicion.

The momentum for peace between the nuclear-armed rivals appeared to have been on the rise since the earthquake three weeks ago.

India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed rivals both created at the partition of the region in 1947, began a tentative peace process last year.

But they have fought three wars since their creation, two of them over Kashmir, with India repeatedly blaming Pakistan for allowing Muslim militants to enter its sector of the divided region.

The UN secured aid pledges worth more than $500-million 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 Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on Saturday, urged the world community to respond immediately to save lives.

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.

“It is very urgent to intensify efforts for the rehabilitation of affected people,” she told reporters during her visit to the school.

The queen warned that if the world does 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 is “not enough”.

Musharraf has said that Pakistan will require 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 week, but a wave of aftershocks has added to worries for the survivors.—Sapa-AFP



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