German helicopters to stay in quake-hit Pakistan

Germany has assured Pakistan that its helicopters will stay in this impoverished Islamic nation's quake-ravaged zone even after NATO pulls out in February, local media reported Friday. NATO forces will wrap up their relief operation on Feb. 1 at the expiry of a 90-day mandate, according to an agreement reached between Pakistan and the military alliance.

Although Germany is part of NATO, Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung said after talks with Pakistani counterpart Rao Sikandar Iqbal that his country will keep two helicopters and troops in Pakistan to continue assisting survivors of the Oct. 8 earthquake.

Four German transport helicopters have been participating in the relief operation since the quake struck northwestern Pakistan and Kashmir killing an estimated 87,000 people and rendering 3.5 million others homeless.

Many survivors are living in tents donated by the international community. On Thursday, Jung told reporters in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad, that his country's response to the quake was very quick.

"Germany has sent helicopters to help in relief work, and we will do what we can to continue helping," he said. Jung didn't specify for how much longer the German mission would continue.

The four German CH-53 Sikorsky heavy-lift helicopters arrived in Pakistan two days after the quake from Termes, Uzbekistan.

Later, NATO doctors and engineers also moved in, transporting survivors and relief items, clearing rods and rebuilding schools and shelters, especially on highlands where snow has started falling. On Friday, Jung was expected to visit Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, where survivors have warmly welcomed foreign aid workers, including the Germans, reports the AP. I.L.

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