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Invisible Line Divides Kashmir Quake Troops

Indian Divisional Commissioner B.R. Sharma (C) and Pakistani Deputy Commissioner Mohammad Farooq (2L) are watched by officials as they shake hands at The Line of Control at Chakan Dabagh, 07 November 2005, following its opening for earthquake relief. Pakistan and India opened their frontier in divided Kashmir for earthquake relief, raising hopes for progress towards resolving their corrosive dispute over the territory. Army commanders and government officials from the two sides met at the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border dividing Kashmir, at 11:50 am Indian time (0620 GMT) and shook hands before posing for photographs. AFP photo by Sajjad Hussain.

Kashmir, Line Of Control (AFP) Nov 07, 2005
For more than five decades they have shelled and shot at each other over the most heavily militarised frontier on earth, but now Indian and Pakistani troops are working side by side -- almost.

The sight of the nuclear rivals' soldiers busily hoisting flags and driving bulldozers just a few footsteps away in the divided territory of Kashmir would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

Officers from both sides even chatted as their men prepared the first of the five crossing points on the Line of Control (LoC), which is due to open Monday to help survivors of the giant October 8 quake.

There is no barbed wire, no mark on the ground to show the de facto border, just a pair of white pennants on one side of the football field-sized crossing area near the Pakistani village of Titrinote, and a tree on the other.

But some habits persist -- not a single person stepped over the line in the five days that the Indian and Pakistani troops worked there.

"If an Indian had found me sitting here like this in the past it would have made his day," Brigadier Tahir Naqvi -- the Pakistani officer in charge of the crossing point -- said wryly from his command post overlooking the LoC.

"We were arch rivals, there is no denying that fact. Before the ceasefire in 2003 it was dangerous terrain and this sector was a 'hot' sector. There was sporadic exchange of fire," he added.

"But now we are both working for humanitarian grounds."

An almost palpable excitement hangs about the Pakistani side, perhaps linked to the feeling that the crossings -- while born out of tragedy -- could herald a new era of peace between Pakistan and India.

The two countries have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, but began a ceasefire on the LoC in late 2003, followed by a complex, slow-moving series of mutual confidence-building measures in January 2004.

Analysts say the opening of more points on the border will further the process -- especially when Kashmiris can come to see family members they have been separated from for decades despite living a stone's throw away.

"It's a very friendly atmosphere," Lieutenant Colonel Ali Khan said in a brief break between directing mechanical diggers on the eve of the opening.

"We have been working alongside each other, we are talking, there is nothing barring us from that -- although we have been more busy preparing the site for the event."

Surrounded by emptiness and sitting in the middle of the huge, mountain-ringed flood plain of a tributary of the River Poonch, the result of their work looks rather like a surreal showjumping ground.

Pakistani troops have erected a pair of gates on their side of the patch of bare earth where quake relief goods will come across. Kashmiris will not be able to do so yet because the two countries have not yet exchanged lists. When they are allowed, buses will be provided to whisk the border crossers to a cluster of tents about one kilometre (half a mile) away on the Pakistani side to go through the formalities.

There are facilities that would not shame a small airport -- immigration, customs, toilets, a doctor, a mosque, international direct dial telephones and even a foreign currency exchange.

The troops on both sides also had to clear minefields, a reminder of the tensions that still remain on the Line of Control, but also a healthy sign that they are scaling down their defences.

"It does feel very strange," said one officer, asking to remain anonymous, when asked what he thought about being so close to the soldiers he has squared off against across the LoC for years.

Meanwhile the Indian troops could be seen joking with each other and talking to an Indian television crew, apparently sharing the optimism of the moment.

Exactly what they think remains unknown - Pakistani soldiers quickly ushered away a journalist trying to call out questions to the Indians across the invisible frontier.

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US To Remove 200 Tonnes Of Highly Enriched Uranium From US Weapons Stockpile
Washington (AFP) Nov 07, 2005
US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Monday that up to 200 tonnes of highly enriched uranium would be removed from the US weapons stockpile to prepare the material for use in the navy, space programs and civilian sectors.

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