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Kashmir Quake Relief Delayed as India, Pakistan Debate Cross-Border Cooperation

25 October 2005

There are growing calls in Kashmir for the border dividing the region between India and Pakistan to be opened to facilitate relief efforts in the wake of the massive October 8 earthquake. Indian officials will travel to Islamabad later this week to discuss the issue.

Angry and impatient survivors in Kashmir say India and Pakistan must move faster on proposals to allow Kashmiris to cross the border to comfort stricken relatives and assist in relief work.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq heads the All Parties Hurriyat conference - a separatist group in Indian Kashmir. He is appealing to the two countries to put people before politics.

"There is a desperate demand from the people that they should be allowed to meet each other and help each other in this hour of crisis," he said. "And we hope at this juncture apart from the political aspect of the problem India and Pakistan will try to focus on the humanitarian aspect of this issue."

The October 8 quake struck close to one of the world's most tightly controlled borders, and left more than 50,000 people dead - mostly in Pakistan.

Since then, many people in the divided Himalayan region have had no news of relatives on the other side of the Line of Control.

Last week Pakistan proposed opening up the ceasefire line and India quickly agreed - offering to set up three relief camps on the frontier for survivors from the Pakistani side. But plans to open these camps on Tuesday have been postponed, while the two countries decide how to cooperate in rehabilitation efforts along the frontier.

Pakistan says it wants to open five points from where Kashmiris can travel in either direction. An Indian delegation will now travel to Pakistan on Friday to discuss the two proposals.

The governments in both countries and relief agencies are racing to help the victims of the quake in remote mountain communities before winter sets in.

The head of the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in South Asia, Bob McKerrow, says the most urgent need is for shelter. But he says, so far, authorities barely have half the number of tents needed.

"In the pipeline, that is the government, the U.N., the Red Cross, we have about 300,000 tents but the need is well over half a million, so it can be a huge shortfall. We are hoping that when the snow falls, people will come down from the mountains, and we will try and set up tent camps in the valley," he added. "That is the only hope really."

The earthquake left more than three million people homeless, and aid deliveries have not yet reached an estimated 2,000 villages.

As part of an extensive aid program by the United States and other countries, the U.S. army is now running a mobile army surgical hospital on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistani Kashmir

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