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Last Updated: Friday, 11 July, 2003, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Bus trips signal India-Pakistan thaw
The Delhi-bound bus crosses the border
The Delhi-bound bus crosses into India at Wagah
The first buses to travel between India and Pakistan for 18 months have reached their destinations in Lahore and Delhi, marking a successful resumption of the direct service.

The service had been suspended since December 2001, following an attack on the Indian parliament.

India blamed that attack on Pakistani-backed militants and broke off diplomatic and transport links.

Friday's bus service marks the first major step towards peace between the two nuclear neighbours following a recent offer of talks by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

The Lahore-bound bus, carrying more than 30 passengers, mostly journalists, set off in heavy monsoon rain at 0600 (0030 GMT) on its 500-kilometre (300-mile) journey.

Peace moves
Dec 2001: Links severed after parliament attack
Apr 2003: Indian PM offers "hand of friendship"
May 2003: Diplomatic ties restored
June 2003: Delhi-Lahore bus service resumes

The bus for Delhi left Lahore soon afterwards.

There was a moment of celebration after the Delhi-bound bus crossed the Indian border and passed the Lahore-bound bus coming the other way in India's Punjab.

"It was an emotional moment when the green-coloured bus came from the opposite direction as it too carried people like us who are eager to start new relationships," said Virendra Kumar by telephone from the Indian bus.

The Delhi-bound bus arrived at the Ambedkar stadium terminus at 2000 (1430 GMT) - about the same time as the other bus pulled into Lahore.

Hardline protest

Heavy security was in place, with police escorting both buses. Passengers were frisked and had their luggage checked before boarding.

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Islamabad says the presence of armed guards shows just how fragile relations between the two sides are.

Mohammad Abdullah with his ticket
It's a very good incentive towards the peace progress
Mohammad Abdullah

Not everyone has been pleased with the resumption of the service.

About 100 Hindu nationalists of the Shiv Sena party waved black flags and shouted insults at Pakistan as the Lahore-bound bus left Delhi.

"On the one hand we keep extending a hand of friendship and time and again Pakistan stabs us in the back," said Shiv Sena's Delhi chief Jay Bhagwan Goel.

India and Pakistan have so far set no date for bilateral negotiations or even agreed on talks about talks.

But resumption of the twice-weekly bus service has been widely welcomed by ordinary people in both countries.

"It's a very good incentive towards the peace progress between India and Pakistan," 20-year-old Mohammad Abdullah, who was travelling to Rawalpindi to see his sister and arrange his nephew's marriage, told the BBC.

"I'm very happy, this bus is good and then Pakistan will come closer, and trade relations between India and Pakistan will also be a good thing."

The route of the cross-border bus before services were suspended

For many it is the chance to meet relatives living on the other side.

"I'm going to be able to see my sister again," said Abdul Khan, 74, who is also travelling to Pakistan.

"We're both old. Who knows how much time we have left?" he told the Reuters news agency.

The service was inaugurated in 1999 when Mr Vajpayee travelled to Lahore for a summit with the then Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif.

The two countries have now agreed to resume diplomatic links.

On Thursday, the new Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Aziz Ahmed Khan, formally assumed charge after handing over his credentials to President APJ Abdul Kalam.

Mr Khan said the two sides must work to restore all links to former levels.

"Along with the bus service, rail and air links should also be restored," he said.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Zaffar Abbas
"Back from the brink, the two sides are again talking peace"



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