October 2005 News

Kashmiri Villagers In The Dark About Plans To Open LoC

28 October 2005
Agence France-Presse

Srinagar: Survivors of the earthquake that buried Bhukari village have one major concern if relatives from the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir come looking for them - they will not recognise each other. Bhukari is a short walk from the final border village of Teetwal in Jammu and Kashmir where the government plans to set up one of three centres so people from the PoK can get relief and meet relatives. 'It is hard. I must admit I will not be able to recognise them as I have not seen them at all,' said Abduk Rashid, 56, from a camp set up for survivors by the army and government in agricultural fields amid the haystacks. 'I came to know from some friends that two of my relatives died in the quake. If they open the border I can send word with (someone) to find out,' Rashid said. Indian and Pakistani officials are slated to meet in Islamabad on Saturday to thrash out the practicalities of opening the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir. India says survivors from PoK can visit the relief camps in the day, be treated and gather supplies, and then cross back again. Pakistan has proposed five crossing points where relief can be facilitated. But those in Bhukari were unaware of the plans to open the border and some didn't even know it was officially known as the Line of Control. 'What is the Line of Control?' asked agricultural labourer Ali Akbar. 'Are they allowing us to the other side? When? If they open I will go to enquire about my relatives. 'I do not know how to reach them. They too do not have a telephone and the last letter they wrote came about an year ago. I do not know if they are alive,' Akbar, who was stitching his old and torn clothes inside a tent, told AFP. Most of the 100-odd villagers in Bhukari are daily wage earners or agricultural labourers and the majority did not attend school. All the houses at the base of the mountain, which overshadows the village, were destroyed by the quake. Villagers say people are still buried under a huge mountain of mud. The road to Teetwal, some 225 kms northwest of Jammu and Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, is still being cleared of boulders which have fallen from surrounding mountains. On Friday, the final stretch was cut off again due to fresh landslides. Men, meanwhile, spend their days pulling out long wooden beams from the debris to make small houses in anticipation of the harsh winter months ahead. Children, whose schools are yet to open, are sent to fetch water and do menial household jobs, while women wash clothes in the icy streams that fall from the mountains. Javed Ahmed, 32, another agricultural labourer, was also unaware that the heavy militarised LoC may be opened up. 'I cannot read or write. It is the best news I have heard so far. If they allow us to see our relatives then God is great,' Ahmed said outside his tent. 'Look at that mountain behind the one hit by landslides. My relatives stay not very far from there,' he said. 'If families cannot be allowed to meet what is the use of governments?'


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