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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK

World: South Asia

Winter worries for Kashmir civilians

A bombed out hospital in Drass

The BBC's Daniel Lak reports from Kargil

As the last Pakistan-backed forces withdraw from Indian territory along the Line of Control that divides the disputed region of Kashmir, attention is now turning to the impact of the war on an already poor and underdeveloped civilian population.

Daniel Lak says: "The battle against hunger and disease may prove the greater challenge"
More than 30,000 people fled the worst of the fighting and very few have gone back yet to their homes and farms. The authorities say it is mostly safe for people to return. The refugees beg to differ.

At the military post office in Kargil, 11,000 letters are stamped and franked every day.

For weeks, they were writing of war, fallen comrades and hardship. But now, say the military postmen here, the letters home tell of the guns falling silent.

[ image: Kargil residents face a long winter]
Kargil residents face a long winter
For the first time in more than a year, Kargil has had a week without enemy shells crashing down - and the soldiers who fought off an intrusion from across the Line of Control will be going home soon.

Brigadier Ashok Duggal, the deputy commanding officer of the Kargil garrison, says there is an air of tranquillity in the region.

"Things are fast returning to normality. I am given to understand that quite a few civilians who had to go away from here are returning," he said.

Lost harvest

Not all those civilians share the brigadier's optimism.

It is threshing time for an extended family in upper Kargil, and the air swirls with chaff blown out by a mechanical thresher.

Listen to Daniel Lak's report from Kargil
Six men and five women are working hard, with the occasional nervous glance towards Pakistani territory to the north. Mohammed Ibrahim owns the land, and until recently had to take extreme risks just to get his crops in.

"Shells used to crash down all around us. We had to hide in bunkers at our house until it stopped.

"Now it looks like we have a chance to finish the harvest," he said.

Relief operations

There is no accurate count yet of just how many here need emergency aid, but organisations like the Delhi-based Insaniyat - Hindi for humanity - have begun distributing food and warm clothing collected from donors outside Kashmir.

[ image: Naresh Trehan:
Naresh Trehan: "We assured them they should go back"
Eleven trucks full of supplies have been handed out. But much more is needed and quickly.

The effort now is to get people to return home, according to the head of Insaniyat, Dr Naresh Trehan.

"We assured them they should go back to their villages. We will collect the supplies and supply them directly to the villages," he said.

The villagers waiting to get blankets, rice, flour and oil are desperately poor at the best of times. Now they face the prospect of a hungry winter because they have missed the chance to get their crops into the ground in time for the harvest.

The departing helicopters and truck convoys of the Indian armed forces go home amid a feeling of victory, a job well done evicting intruders from across the Line of Control.

But a few months away from Kargil's unbelievably harsh winter, it is clear that the battle to rebuild shattered lives and avoid hunger and disease will be an even greater challenge for India.

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