India delays plans to open frontier with Pakistan to aid quake victims

India on Saturday sharply curtailed plans, for now, to open its Kashmir frontier with Pakistan to aid earthquake survivors _ a setback for the disaster diplomacy that has brought the rivals closer in a time of need.

Meanwhile, forecasts of snow on the Pakistani side of divided Kashmir added to the ordeal for hundreds of thousands of survivors still without shelter nearly a month after the quake, as U.N. and other aid agencies struggle with limited budgets to deliver help before winter.

After the Oct. 8 quake killed about 80,000 people across a swath centered in Pakistan and spanning into India's portion of Kashmir, the two nuclear-armed foes reached a breakthrough agreement to open five border crossings starting Monday.

But India on Saturday said only one crossing would be ready, citing land mines and landslides on the Indian side and other glitches _ a blow for survivors eager to cross over to check on relatives, exchange provisions and seek help at relief camps being set up along the frontier.

The Indian foreign ministry said authorities hope to open two more crossings before the end of the week, while Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. V.K. Batra laid some of the blame for delays on Pakistan, saying its work on bridges at two of the crossings was incomplete. Pakistani officials, however, said their side was ready to open the crossings.

In Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir, Deputy Police Chief Ata Ullah said diplomats from both countries had been slated to meet Saturday to exchange a list of names of people intending to cross over _ but that the meeting was canceled. He did not explain why. Ullah said the cancellation raised doubt about whether any crossings would take place at all on Monday, even at the Rawalakot-Punch crossing that India said would open.

Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan after the bloody partition of the subcontinent following independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir in a dispute that has sparked two wars and kept families separated for more than half a century.

The two sides began a peace process last year, and last month's frontier agreement helped the warming of ties, raising hope among many survivors that they would be able to check whether long-lost relatives had they survived the magnitude 7.6 quake.

Chinari residents had planned to embark over the weekend on a 50-kilometer (30-mile) walk through the Himalayas to the Chakothi-Uri crossing, but those plans were thrown into doubt by India's announcement.

The quake left more than 3 million people homeless _ a particular concern with the fierce Himalayan winter approaching. The U.N. estimates that 800,000 people are without shelter, 200,000 of them in remote, mostly high-altitude hamlets not yet reached by any aid workers.

Some snow has already fallen at elevations of about 3,000 meters (10,000 feet), and on Saturday, Pakistan's Meteorological Department said more was likely in the next few days at elevations as low as 1,500 meters (5,000 feet). In the highest mountain hamlets, temperatures were expected to dip to -12 degrees Celsius (10 Fahrenheit), the department said.

The United Nations, which warned on Oct. 28 that it would need to reduce its relief missions soon due to underfunding, will announce details of its cutbacks on Tuesday, exactly a month after the quake, said spokeswoman Amanda Pitt. She declined to reveal any details Saturday, but said the U.N. has received only a quarter of the US$550 million (Ђ461 million) it needs for humanitarian operations here for the next six months.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, on Friday appealed to the world to be as generous with quake survivors as they were for victims of Asia's tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, AP reports.


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