Kashmir border opens, aid exchanged

India and Pakistan have exchanged quake aid at their disputed Kashmir frontier in a mostly symbolic act of cooperation.

Two men with children who made a dash for India were arrested
Two men with children who made a dash for India were arrested

But Monday’s ceremony was marred when Pakistani villagers tried to storm across and police dispersed them with teargas.

Hundreds of villagers on the Pakistani side of the Rawalakot-Punch crossing broke into a chant, “We want an independent Kashmir,” and witnesses said two men clutching young boys in their arms tried to dash over to the Indian side of the divided Himalayan region.

“The people had gathered and were trying to cross the Line of Control. Due to this reason we fired teargas,” said a Pakistan policeman who would give his name only as Tariq.

A couple of gunshots, possibly warnings, rang out, though Tariq denied that police had fired anything but teargas canisters. He said there were no injuries.

The two men were arrested, witnesses at the scene said.

Food, medicine

The villagers dispersed and pulled back about 100m from the crossing.

Earlier, India began handing over tents, food and medicine to Pakistan as part of a much-heralded partial opening of their frontier after the region’s devastating 8 October earthquake.

Trucks carried tents, food andmedicines for quake victims

Trucks carried tents, food and
medicines for quake victims

Pakistani Brigadier Tahir Naqvi shook hands with Indian Colonel Santanu Ghose across a white line painted at the crossing set up near the Punch river, and they declared it open for aid exchanges.

Trucks backed up to the line, about 5m apart, and porters from the Indian side handed the first batch of aid – sacks packed with tents – to counterparts on the Pakistani side, who loaded them on their truck.

“It’s definitely a historical moment,” said Braj Raj Sharma, a top civilian official in India’s Jammu & Kashmir state.

“They say that adversity unites people. This is what is happening today.”
Aid exchange

Sharma said the 25 truckloads of Indian aid included tents, tarpaulins, sugar, butter and medicine.

Pakistani officials said a single truckload of aid from Pakistan would be handed over to India.

The 8 October quake killed about 80,000 people in divided Kashmir

The 8 October quake killed about
80,000 people in divided Kashmir

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake on 8 October killed about 80,000 people – most of them in northern Pakistan but also 1350 in India’s portion of divided Kashmir.

The border opening that the two sides agreed to last month was supposed to have been a grander gesture: letting civilians of divided Kashmir cross at five points to check on long-lost relatives and visit relief camps along the frontier.

But India on Saturday said it was prepared to open only one crossing. And on Sunday officials on both sides said bureaucratic wrangling would delay chances for people to cross, partly because India was concerned that separatist fighters might head into Indian territory.

Sharma said that once-a-week crossings of civilians should be allowed in about a week and that an additional frontier point, the Tattapani-Meandher crossing, should be open by then.

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