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Footfalls across LoC after 58 years

Teethwal, Nov. 19 (Agencies): India and Pakistan allowed Kashmiris to walk across their heavily militarised frontier for the first time in nearly 60 years today to learn the fate of relatives after last months quake and mourn the dead.

Two dozen Kashmiris living on the Indian side crossed the Line of Control (LoC) at Teethwal and entered the Pakistani point of Nauseri.

I am going to that side for the first time after 1947, but unfortunately to mourn dead relatives, said Abdul Rehman. The 70-year-old said the October 8 earthquake killed at least six of his relatives in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

The Kashmiris, many of them old men and women, crossed a narrow Bailey bridge made of steel wire and wood, built over the shimmering Kishanganga river which marks the frontier here.

If I hug my sister and brother and offer prayers at the graves of my parents, I will think my life is complete. A dream will finally come true, added 60-year-old Ali Gowher with tears in his eyes before he stepped on to the bridge.

India and Pakistan agreed two weeks ago to allow movement of aid across the border and to permit divided families to meet. They have opened five crossings on the LoC to exchange relief goods. Teethwal is the first point for civilians to cross.

There will be further crossings at this point on November 26 and December 3 and 10. November 21 and December 5 have been fixed for crossings at the Poonch-Rawalakot point and November 28 and December 12 for Mendhar-Tatapani.

People can cross the Uri-Chakoti point on November 17 and December 1 while Uri-Hajipir will be opened on November 25 and December 8.

Hundreds of villagers gathered to see off the 24 travellers as Red Cross and Pakistani relief helicopters hovered in the sky.

Some 120 people from PoK, too, have been given permits by Delhi to enter Jammu and Kashmir. But officials did not have details of anyone crossing over from PoK.

This could be because of bungling by the Pakistani army, which initially said it had no information that civilian crossings would be allowed today. It contacted the authorities after a request from the Indian side, and finally the Indian Kashmiris could go through at 4 pm.

Its like going on the Haj pilgrimage. I want to see who has survived among my kith and kin, said Begum Jan, a frail, 80-year-old woman who was barely able to walk.

I am really thankful to these two countries who have given us a chance to reunite. I wish and pray my family on the other side has survived, said Jan, whose grandchildren live in Muzaffarabad.

The UN wants the ceasefire line opened to its aid trucks, saying it could save thousands of lives in remote mountain communities on the Pakistani side. But the two countries have yet to agree to this.

A bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad had opened in April for the first time since 1947. But the fortnightly service was suspended after the earthquake damaged the bridge and roads and left many passengers stranded.

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