Annan appeals for aid for quake victims

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan appealed Thursday to donors to give generously for victims of Pakistan's earthquake, as Kashmiri civilians crossed the disputed territory's frontier for the first time since the Oct. 8 disaster.

Annan is the highest profile world leader scheduled to attend a conference Saturday aimed at boosting international donations for quake reconstruction. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has appealed for more than US$5 billion (Ђ4.3 billion) in aid to rebuild the earthquake-ravaged north.

"What happened here, the earthquake, was something that the world could not have imagined," Annan told reporters after arriving at an air base at Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, on a three-day visit that will include a tour of the quake zone and an international donors' conference on Saturday.

"I would expect the world ... to be generous, to give and give willingly."

The magnitude 7.6 quake left more than 87,000 dead, mostly in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. About 1,350 died in India's portion of Kashmir, which is claimed in its entirety by both countries but divided between them by a cease-fire line.

The quake destroyed the homes of about 3 million people, leaving hundreds of thousands living in tents. An unknown number have no shelter at all.

Annan said additional deaths had been caused by logistical problems in bringing aid to quake victims and said more could die of cold and hunger.

"We need more resources, not just for the emergency, but recovery and reconstruction, and I hope that as we rebuild we are going rebuild better houses," Annan said, appealing to governments, the private sector and individual donors to contribute funds.

Also Thursday, two dozen civilians from Indian-controlled Kashmir returned home across the disputed frontier with Pakistan, where they had been visiting relatives when the earthquake struck.

The group, mostly elderly men, walked across a dry river bed under a damaged bridge at the Chakothi-Uri checkpoint, where a cross-border bus service had been inaugurated earlier this year as part of peace efforts. The service has been suspended because of the damage to roads and bridges.

No one crossed over from the Indian side into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

The South Asian rivals agreed last month to let people from either side of Kashmir cross over at five points along the frontier to help relief efforts and allow divided families to reunite. Until Thursday, the two sides had only exchanged relief supplies.

Delays in letting people cross have been blamed on bureaucratic problems and New Delhi's fears that separatist Muslim militants fighting Indian rule in Kashmir may be among those seeking to cross. Pakistan and India have fought two wars over the Himalayan, territory, which both claim in its entirety by both.

Among those returning home was Khawaja Attaullah, 72, who lives in Namla, six kilometers (four miles) from Uri on the Indian side. He had traveled by bus to the Pakistan side to visit his nephew on Sept. 22.

"It was very nice but unfortunately due to the earthquake everything changed. Now I'm going back with a sorrowed mind," he said before leaving Chakothi on the Pakistan side.

Ahead of the aid conference, Musharraf said Pakistan had so far received "negligible" funds from donors, but expressed confidence it could raise the US$5.2 billion (Ђ4.4 billion) needed for relief and reconstruction, reports the AP. I.L.

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