November 2005 News

Second LoC Crossing Point Opens

9 November 2005
Agence France-Presse

Line of Control: Pakistan and India on Wednesday exchanged almost identical relief aid for earthquake survivors in a symbolic gesture after opening a second crossing point on their tightly guarded frontier in Kashmir. Army commanders and government officials from the two sides met at the Line of Control (LoC) and shook hands before declaring the crossing point open. Pakistani porters dressed in green and Indian porters dressed in blue then began passing relief materials from hand to hand in both directions over the crossing, which links Kaman Post in Occupied Kashmir with Chakhoti in Azad Kashmir. 'Relief has been exchanged for Kashmiri villagers affected by the quake on both sides of the border,' said Shafiq Ahmed, the Pakistani government official in charge of his side's relief camp. '(On Monday) we took relief, now we exchanged it. It is a good beginning. We hope that this will go on. In the coming days more relief materials will be exchanged. Today's relief mainly consisted of food items, tents and blankets.' When the first of five designated relief points was opened on Monday, linking Titrinote in Azad Kashmir and Chakan da Bagh in the occupied territory, the relief supplies were solely for survivors in Azad Kashmir. 'It's a symbolic gesture,' said Indian government official Bashir Runiyal of Wednesday's exchange of supplies. 'The main idea is to alleviate the sufferings of the quake victims. It will be an ongoing process.' So far no civilians have been allowed across the LoC as the two countries have agreed that a lengthy verification process is needed for those wanting to cross over. This had led to frustration among survivors of the October 8 earthquake. Officials said the quake survivors in occupied Kashmir have started applying for permission to cross the border and meet relatives. 'There are quite a few applications which have come to us. It is being processed,' said Divisonal Commissioner Naresh Kumar Verma. 'The procedure (to complete the formalities) may take a few days.' In occupied Kashmir, a field hospital comprising around 10 tents has been created. An Indian flag and a Red Cross flag fluttered from poles. Red Cross official Sheikh Hamid said his team has contributed medicines and kitchen sets as part of the government relief. Nazir Ahmed Qanoongo, head of the government medical team at the hospital, said no patients have been treated so far. 'We have set up a team consisting of five male and two female doctors and seven paramedics. We are waiting for patients and hopefully they will come,' Qanoongo told AFP. 'The team is equipped with X-ray, laboratory, orthopaedic and surgeons.' Held Kashmiri bus passengers trapped in Azad Kashmir by last month's quake complained Wednesday after they were barred from going home despite the opening of a second point on the frontier. The 13 men and two women waited in vain at the Kaman Bridge across the LoC, as only relief goods were allowed to pass. 'The governments should not treat people like this. They should not go back on their promises,' said Farid Beg, who came from Uri town with his sister and brother-in-law two days before the October 8 disaster. The 'peace bus', which started operating in April between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, has been suspended since the quake because the road is damaged. The Kashmiris said authorities in Azad Kashmir told them at the weekend to go to the crossing but when their relatives took them there, officials told them they could not pass. To get to the LoC they had to walk with their heavy luggage for three kilometres over the last section of road, which was destroyed by the quake, they said. 'We cannot forcibly cross the LoC, we have to follow the law,' said another angry passenger, Mohammed Akram Khan, who is from Balkot village in Uri sector. 'But the officials don't follow their own words. Exchange of relief goods is good but the authorities should also realise the plight of divided families,' he added. 'Please throw the LoC open for the residents of this land.' Officials say some 44 Kashmiris remain in Azad Kashmir, while 31 passengers from Azad Kashmir are stranded in the occupied Kashmir. As he waited at a makeshift bus terminal some 500 yards away from the bridge on the Pakistani side, Farid Beg said he did not know where he was going to go. 'The people we were staying with, they have become homeless as well in the quake. So where are we going to stay now?' he added. Meanwhile, Indian soldiers are racing to widen roads and build bridges in time for the planned November 16 opening of another crossing across the LoC to allow relief aid to reach earthquake survivors. As an interim measure, mines have been cleared from tracks to allow mule trains to deliver relief materials to the LoC. 'We have constructed a mule track right up to the last point of the LoC,' said Indian army officer S Bhardwaj in the frontier village of Tulawari, as soldiers used dynamite to blast sections of the rugged terrain for road construction. 'We are widening this road to make it motorable right up to the Hatlanga Nallah (stream),' said Indian army spokesman Vijay Batra, referring to the intended crossing point that joins Uri district in occupied Kashmir with Hajipir in Azad Kashmir. 'The mule track is operational. We have laid four small bridges over the stream and when both sides announce the date to open it, we will be able to hand over (supplies) to Pakistanis at the LoC,' said Batra. Both sides have agreed to pitch three to four tents at the transit point to be utilised by civil officials, customs and police for documentation and handing over of relief material. India will also lay a vehicular bridge over the stream at the crossing point once it completes the final stretch of about a kilometre of road up to the LoC, Batra said, adding that the Pakistanis are also preparing a road. 'Both sides are in a state of preparedness,' he said, adding that some 100 mules and ponies from Silikot, the last motorable point, will carry 30 to 40 tonnes of relief per day if and when the point is opened. A third crossing at Tithwal is due to start operating on Saturday. Another point linking Tattapani in Azad Kashmir with Mendhar in Occupied Kashmir will be operational from November 14 while the Uri-Hajipir crossing is due to open on November 16, India's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday. For Kashmiris in Tulawari village, right on the LoC, that day can't come quickly enough. 'It is music to the ears that the two countries have agreed to open these relief points,' said student Gulshan Ara, washing clothes near a stream in the village. 'I'd like to meet my uncle. But I am told we require permission. I hope both the governments clear the formalities as soon as possible. I have not met him ever and want to see him,' Ara said at the village 134 kilometres northwest of Srinagar. 'We have been urging the (Indian) army to open this road for us and allow us to meet our relatives,' said Farida Begum, 55, a widow with seven children. 'Beyond that mountain ridge is a small village where most of my relatives live,' said Begum, referring to a hamlet in Azad Kashmir. 'They are good,' she said of the army as Indian troops erected a tent near her house for a makeshift school. For Mathu Jinder, 70, of flattened Charunda village, it will be a 'dream come true' if the relief point is opened. 'We don't want anything from that side. The (Indian) army has given us everything. But we are dying to meet our relatives,' he said.


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