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Stranded passengers cross LoC after 20 days

January 29, 2013

Passengers board an Indian Jammu and Kashmir state government bus departing to Azad Kashmir, at the Chakan-da-Bagh outpost near Poonch, some 250 kilometers from Jammu, the winter capital of Kashmir, on January 28, 2013.  — Photo by AFP

MUZAFFARABAD: More than 135 stranded and other passengers travelled across the Line of Control (LoC) on Monday from the Tetrinote-Chakan da Bagh crossing point following its reopening after three weeks. The crossing was closed after hostilities broke out between the Pakistan and Indian armies on Jan 6.

“Today 79 passengers belonging to AJK arrived back and 44 from Indian-held Kashmir who had got stuck here returned to their homes. There was no new passenger from the other side, but 15 new passengers went across from here,” Poonch Deputy Commissioner Sohail Azam told Dawn from Rawalakot.

He said trade through the crossing point would resume on Tuesday.

The intra-Kashmir passenger travel takes place every Monday and goods are transported under the barter system from Tuesday to Friday.

The area around the crossing became the scene of regular skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian armies after the killing of a Pakistani soldier at the hands of Indians in Darra Haji Pir sector of neighbouring Bagh district on Jan 6.

Two days later, India accused Pakistani troops of killing and beheading its two soldiers on patrol in the territory under its control. Pakistan denied the charge and called for a UN probe, but the demand was rejected by India. Two more Pakistani soldiers were killed later and as many civilians injured in firing by India.

The shelling forced the Azad Kashmir authorities to close some vulnerable roads.

As a truck laden with intra-Kashmir trade items also came under Indian fire, the authorities decided on Jan 8 to suspend trade and travel through Tetrinote-Chakan da Bagh.

“Indian army posts overlook the road leading to the crossing point from our side. It is thus vulnerable to their shelling, compelling us to suspend trade and travel, particularly after the firing on a truck,” AJK Trade and Travel Authority Director General Brig (retd) Mohammad Ismail said.

Although travel through the Chakothi-Uri crossing point, 60km south of Muzaffarabad, continued, the passengers who had travelled through Tetrinote-Chakan da Bagh were stranded on both sides even after the expiry of their mandated duration of stay. According to Mr Ismail, it was because India had stopped allowing passengers to use for return any crossing point other than the one from where they had travelled across.

Following easing of tensions along the LoC in Poonch, it had been decided to resume travel and trade between the divided parts of the region, he said.

Trade and travel through the Tetrinote-Chakan da Bagh point had also remained suspended in June last year following escalations along the LoC.

Mr Ismail regretted that cross-LoC travel, which had been described as “mother of all confidence-building measures”, had become fragile as any “trigger-happy Indian soldier can bring the entire process to a grinding halt with one gunshot”.

“We want peace to prevail and trade and travel to flourish.” However, unfortunately we have not been as successful as we wish. In fact the confidence of both travellers and traders has become shaky in the wake of such suspensions,” he said, calling upon the international community and both governments to take measures to restore this trust.

Also on Monday, 45 people travelled to opposite sides through the Chakothi-Uri crossing point. Of them 18 were fresh passengers from both sides while the rest were returning residents.

Travelling on foot through the Chilyana-Titwal crossing point in Neelum valley, however, remains suspended since November last year due to heavy snowfall. It will resume on May 1, according to Mr Ismail.