India, Pakistan to open military border

India and Pakistan have agreed to open the militarised border in the disputed Kashmir region to help victims of South Asia's quake.

    A joint statement was released after a day of talks

    After marathon talks on Saturday between Foreign Ministry officials that lasted more than 12 hours, the two sides agreed to open crossings at five points across the Line of Control, the ceasefire line that divides the Himalayan region that the arch rivals have fought two wars over.

    The two sides agreed the border would be opened on 7 November.

    Relief items can be sent in either direction and handed over to local authorities at the five crossing points, the Pakistan Foreign Ministry statement said. Crossings would also be permitted on foot, with priority given to families divided by the border.

    The agreement came in response to the massive 8 October earthquake that killed an estimated 78,000 people in Pakistan and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. More than 1300 people died on the Indian side of Kashmir. An estimated 3.3 million others were left homeless, and fears for their lives are growing as winter closes in.


    Procedures for crossing the border would be similar to those implemented earlier this year when the historic bus service between the two capitals of disputed Kashmir,

    Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, was restarted.


    Opening up the border is a
    sensitive issue for India

    People wanting to cross would have to apply for a permit from government officials on either side to verify their identities.


    The five crossings would be allowed at the Pakistani-Indian border towns of Nauseri-Teethwal, Chakothi-Uri, Hajipur-Uri, Rawalakot-Poonch, and Tattapni-Mendhar.


    Opening up the border is a particularly sensitive issue for India because of a 16-year separatist movement in its part of Kashmir by groups seeking independence or the

    region's merger with Pakistan. In the past, India has regularly blamed violence in the region on separatists supported by Pakistan.


    The talks, which lasted more than 12 hours, broke off temporarily on Saturday night after a series of explosions ripped through two busy markets and a bus in the Indian capital, New Delhi, killing least 58 people.


    Indian officials blamed terrorists for the blasts, but stopped short of naming any group. Pakistan strongly denounced the attacks as "a criminal act of terrorism".




    Crossing the land border in Kashmir was forbidden for 58 years until Pakistan and India agreed to a twice-monthly bus service earlier this year, one of the most tangible results so far of a two-year peace process to bury their history of acrimony and settle their competing claims to Kashmir.


    Bus services started between the
    two countries earlier this year

    The magnitude of the disaster, South Asia's worst-ever earthquake, has helped override longstanding suspicions between the two countries. Earlier this month, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf had suggested allowing Kashmiris to help each other recover from the 8 October quake, a proposal that India welcomed.


    Since the earthquake, India has delivered tonnes of supplies to Pakistan, and on Wednesday offered $25 million to a faltering UN appeal for funds for the emergency relief effort.


    India is also setting up three relief camps on its side of the border where Pakistani earthquake victims could get medical help, food and relief supplies.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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