ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – India and Pakistan agreed early today to open the heavily militarized frontier in the disputed Kashmir region to speed help for victims of the devastating South Asia earthquake, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry said.

After more than 12 hours of talks, the two sides agreed to establish crossings at five points along the Line of Control, the cease-fire line that has divided the Himalayan region for nearly six decades as the result of the neighbors’ two wars over the area.

Opening the border in predominantly Muslim Kashmir is particularly sensitive for India’s government, which has been fighting a 16-year insurgency by Islamic militants who want Indian Kashmir to be independent or united with Pakistan.

The agreement came as a series of explosions in India’s capital killed dozens of people in carnage that Indian leaders blamed on terrorists. Pakistan’s government condemned the bloodshed.

Crossing the cease-fire line was forbidden for 58 years, until Pakistan and India agreed to a twice-monthly bus service earlier this year. That was one of the most tangible results so far of a two-year effort to end decades of animosity and resolve the Kashmir dispute. But the devastation from South Asia’s worst-ever earthquake has helped override long-standing suspicions between the two countries.

The border openings begin Nov. 7. Relief goods can be sent in either direction and handed over to local authorities at the crossings, the Foreign Ministry statement said. Civilians will be allowed to cross on foot, with priority given to families divided by the border.

The Oct. 8 earthquake killed more than 78,000 people in northern Pakistan and more than 1,300 in Indian Kashmir.

Some 3.3 million people were left homeless, and fears for their lives are growing as winter closes in. An estimated 800,000 people, many living in remote mountain valleys, still lack basic shelter, and relief officials say 600,000 more tents are needed.

Since the quake, India has delivered tons of supplies to Pakistan, and on Wednesday it offered $25 million to a sluggish U.N. appeal for funds for emergency relief. It is also setting up three camps on its side of the border where Pakistani quake victims can get medical help, food and relief supplies.

More than 60 nations have pledged funds, including $50 million in aid offered by Washington.

The U.S. military has also sent helicopters, a field hospital and a construction battalion to earthquake-stricken Pakistan – a gesture that may help improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world.

“When they do something against Muslims, we condemn them. Now as they are helping us, we should appreciate them,” said Yar Mohammed, 48, a farmer in Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistan’s portion of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir.

By Saturday afternoon, the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, with its 51 doctors and nurses, had treated more than 200 patients, often operating on broken limbs and performing amputations on quake victims, as well as handling strokes, breathing problems and tetanus.

Ulfat Shah walked four days with his sick wife, Shamim, from the quake-destroyed town of Wadi Neelum to the field hospital that had been flown to Muzaffarabad. Shamim underwent an operation after suffering a miscarriage and was hopeful of a full recovery.

“We are very happy that the Americans are here to help us,” Shah said.



Associated Press writer Matti Huuhtanen in Muzaffarabad contributed to this report.

AP-ES-10-29-05 1838EDT


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