Pakistan and India open frontier in Kashmir

Pakistan and India have opened their frontier in Kashmir for earthquake relief, but police had to fire tear gas to disperse protesters who were banned from taking part in the symbolic crossing. After army commanders and government officials from the two sides met and shook hands across the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC), quake aid from India, including tents, food and medical supplies, were passed over the border.

"This is a huge day in the history of both Kashmir and the subcontinent," said Sardar Mohammed Farooq, the deputy commissioner of Pakistani Kashmir.

Kashmiris themselves were not allowed to cross the border to check on family members after the October 8 disaster.

Hundreds of angry Pakistani villagers surged towards the Indian side of the LoC, and police launched tear gas shells and let off volleys of automatic gunfire in the air to hold back the crowd.

Two men and two children who tried to run across a recently cleared minefield towards the LoC were tackled by police and bundled into a van.

The outbreak of unrest during what was meant to be a carefully choreographed ceremony highlighted complaints by Kashmiris that they have not been able to see relatives for decades.

Indian officials said they were sending 25 truckloads of relief goods to the Pakistani side — the area worst hit by the October 8 quake, which killed more than 74,000 people — including tents, tarpaulins, food and medicine.

White tape had earlier been laid along the LoC at the crossing — at the town of Titrinote on the Pakistani side and Chakan da bagh in the Indian zone — and both sides had laid out red carpets.

A sign on the Indian side read: "We have not opened the LoC, we have opened hearts."

Civilians may be able to cross by November 14, said BR Sharma, divisional commissioner for the Jammu district of Indian Kashmir, after shaking hands with Pakistan's Farooq at the ceremony.

At least two more crossing points along the frontier are due to open within the next week, but it is still unclear when all five of the points proposed last month by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf will open.

After the tear gas incident, local separatist leaders gave speeches to the crowd.

They urged them to stay where they were until the Indian and Pakistan authorities allowed them to cross the de facto border.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said many Kashmiris were unaware of the procedures to cross the frontier, reports World news. I.L.

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