India To Open Phone Link Across Quake-hit Kashmir
18 October 2005
New Delhi: India announced a free telephone link on Tuesday for Kashmiris desperate to contact relatives across the fortified border in Pakistani Kashmir after this month's earthquake. Thousands of Indian quake survivors have pleaded for telephone links to be opened after the quake killed at least 41,000 in Pakistan and injured 67,000, while in Indian Kashmir a further 1,300 people died. Millions have been left homeless. A foreign ministry statement said four centres would remain open in India's Jammu and Kashmir state for a fortnight from Wednesday to help people call relatives in Muzaffarabad in Pakistani Kashmir. 'This facility is being provided as a special case, on the directions of the prime minister,' the Indian statement added. India normally restricts calls across the border to Pakistani Kashmir and people have to book their calls in advance for security reasons. Kashmir has been the cause of two of the three wars between the South Asian rivals. The situation has improved after both countries began a tentative peace process two years ago. In the latest peace initiative, India sent relief materials, including tents and food, for Pakistani quake victims. India has also offered military helicopters for relief and rescue work in Pakistani Kashmir. Islamabad has said it would accept the helicopters without Indian crew, but Indian officials have said only Indian crew would operate the choppers.