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GILGIT, Jan 1: With the closure of Pakistan-China border at Khunjerab Pass, 210km north of here on Dec 31, the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang province expelled over 700 Pakistani traders , majority of them from the Northern Areas, along with 150 containers as the deadline for exit expired.

According to Pakistan-China Border Protocol Agreement 1985, the trade and travel on Karakuram Highway between China and Pakistan remains suspended between January and April every year due to harsh weather and snowfall on the 16,000-foot Khunjerab top, the sources said. However, the border would remain open to visits by official delegations and postal services between Pakistan and China. It is being done under the bilateral agreement between the two countries.

The sources said that majority of the expelled traders are from the Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan) who are border-pass holders.

The Customs and immigration authorities would withdraw their staff from the Tashqorghan-Sost posts which facilitates import-export between the two countries. However, the sources added that despite the border closure some officials of immigration and customs departments would remain at Sost border checkpoint for facilitating official delegations.

These traders were staying on border passes issued by the Northern Areas administration, the sources said. Meanwhile, the Chinese side has said that they are prepared to cooperate with their neighbouring countries to check smuggling, adds APP.

The full weight of Chinese law will be felt by smugglers as the country continues to fight the scourge, said the officials of the General Administration of Customs. Although the fight against smuggling has achieved remarkable results in recent years, there is still much work to do throughout the country.

It has been decided that efforts will continue to focus on smuggling activities in key coastal regions, the smuggling of key commodities and money laundering.

Law-abiding importing and exporting operations will become more standardized and the relevant laws and systems will be perfected. In addition, advanced technologies and equipment will be introduced to combat smuggling. Large-scale smuggling has been effectively curbed since 1998, according to data from the Customs General Administration.

Statistics show customs houses at all levels across the country uncovered nearly 56,000 cases of smuggling - involving $5.2 billion worth of goods - from 1998 to the end of 2002, the agency added.

N. Areas scouts: The federal government has sanctioned Rs45 million for the revival of the defunct Northern Areas Scouts (NAS) which was abolished in 1948 following the liberation of Gilgit-Baltistan from the Dogra Raj.

Sources said that the amount for the revival of the NAS had been released by the Centre and the recruitment code and procedures for the NAS were being prepared. The NAS was merged into the Northern Light Infantry after the independence.

The sources said that the NAS would comprise 2,000 personnel of which 500 would be initially recruited and the process would be completed by June 2004. Later all the paramilitary forces including Frontier Constabulary, Chitral Scouts and Khyber Rifles would be relieved and sent to their respective areas.

The sources said that the NAS would guard the borders along the Northern Areas and help keep law and order in the region.