Protests follow opening of LoC
Pak police fired teargas and shots into air to disperse the protesters from PoK.india Updated: Nov 07, 2005 22:43 IST
Pakistani police fired teargas and shots into the air on Monday to disperse hundreds of villagers trying to approach a border crossing with India in Kashmir after it was opened to help earthquake relief efforts.
Villagers shouted, "Let people cross" and "What we want is freedom" as they approached the Line of Control, the LoC that separates J&K and
"We want an independent Kashmir. We don't respect this border," said one of the protesters, Azhar Mushtaq.
Shortly before the protest, Indian and Pakistani military officials opened the LoC a largely symbolic gesture to help survivors of the October 8 earthquake that killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and about 1,300 in India.
Military officials from the two sides shook hands across the line and an orange Indian truck carrying relief goods backed up to it while a Pakistani truck drove up in reverse from its side. Men then began unloading sacks from the Indian truck into the Pakistani one.
"This is a historical event. There have been physical and mental barriers for 60 years. Now the mental barriers are crumbling," said BR Sharma, a commissioner in Jammu district, speaking before the protest.
The two sides had agreed to open five points on the heavily militarised Line of Control, the region worst hit by an October 8 earthquake.
But on Saturday, India said only one of the five, in its Poonch district, which was lightly touched by the quake, would open on Monday.
Pakistani officials said only relief goods would be crossing the line on Monday as paperwork had delayed hoped-for reunions of divided families.
Opening the Line of Control is not expected to make a big difference to relief efforts.
With the Pakistani side accessible by road, villagers said they didn't need aid from India. They just wanted to see relatives on the other side.
"We want the Pakistan and Indian governments to ease restrictions to let people meet," Pakistani villager Sardar Abdul Hafiz said shortly before the protest.
He was one of several hundred people, many from divided families, watching the border opening.
"We don't need sugar, flour or rice or anything else. We just want to see our dear ones," he said.
While Pakistan-occupied Kashmir suffered heavier quake damage than J&K, the area where the border was opened is on the southern edge of the disaster zone.
The Indian Army said a relief camp at the newly opened border point, at Chakan da Bagh opposite Titrinote, was ready to host 100 people and a helipad had been restored to evacuate any emergency patients.
However, because Titrinote is accessible by road it is unlikely any patients are still awaiting medical help or emergency aid.
Time Running out
But aid officials warn that with winter fast approaching, time is running out for up to three million people left homeless by the quake in Pakistan, some of whom remain without help high in the mountains while temperatures tumble.
Aid workers say opening a border crossing into Pakistan's hard-hit Neelum valley, would be most significant in terms of aid as that area is still cut off by landslides.
India says it will open a route into the Neelum valley from Teetthwal to Nauseri on the Pakistani side on Thursday. Pakistan says a bridge must be laid across the Neelum river before relief goods can come in.
But with roads swept away by landslides, any aid from the Indian side would still have to be moved by helicopter to communities outside the immediate area.