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India to set up 3 relief camps along LoC

By Sheela Bhatt and Onkar Singh in New Delhi
October 22, 2005 20:33 IST
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India has taken a pro-active and unilateral move to rise above relief and rehabilitation politics in the quake-hit areas along the Line of Control when it announced that it would open three composite relief camps to help the people of Pakistan occupied Kashmir.

Navtej Sarna, spokesperson of the Union ministry of external affairs, said that three medical and relief centers will be opened at Kaman in Uri, Titwal in Kupwara and Chakantabagh near Poonch sector.  

Sarna announced that the government had decided to set up composite relief and rehabilitation centres for earthquake-affected people. The medical camps are expected to be operational on October 25.

In view of the international criticism over the diplomatic game played between India and Pakistan over providing relief to Kashmiris on both sides of the LoC, India has now taken this step to put its record straight.

Omar Abdullah, former minister of state for external affairs, termed this as a humanitarian gesture.

"We would like to see that points along the LoC which have been opened by the government should be made permanent. We would like the Jammu-Sialkot, Poonch and Rawlakot, and Rajauri and Kargil-Skardu routes to be opened up as well," he said.

Abdullah believed that though the government claimed that this was a unilateral decision, it had been forced by the circumstances in view of the statement of Pakistan President (Pervez Musharraf) that he would like LoC to be opened up during the crisis."

Musharraf had asked for softening of the LoC but India termed it as 'general comment' and awaited specifics and practical suggestions.

"People from across the border can also come here for treatment and return after the treatment. At these points, Indian nationals will also be able to meet their relatives," MEA spokesperson Sarna said, adding that potable water, medical facilities and temporary shelters will also be provided in these camps.

"India has conveyed its decision to the Pakistan High Commissioner," Sarna said, adding, "India will await Pakistan's response."

"A lot of people have been affected and they need assistance. This is a proposal by India to alleviate their pain," he added.

Stating that PoK-based Kashmiris can enter the Indian side of Kashmir with the help of proper documents, Sarna clarified that if the treatement of a person from PoK was not over in a few hours, he or she could stay back on the Indian side of Kashmir.

When asked if only Kashmris will be allowed in these camps, he said, "Those who had been affected by the earthquake will be allowed."

By any account, India's announcement is pathbreaking.

People's Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti and senior Jammu and Kashmir Awami National Conference leader Muzzaffar Shah welcomed the government's decision. 

"The government should make full use of this opportunity to provide medical relief to a maximum number of Pakistan earthquake victims," Shah said.

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Sheela Bhatt and Onkar Singh in New Delhi