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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 January, 2004, 22:18 GMT
India, Pakistan restore air links
Indian official welcomes passengers off the flight from Pakistan
Travellers have waited two years for the direct link
Pakistan and India have restored air links between the two countries with a Pakistan International Airlines' (PIA) flight from Lahore to Delhi.

It was the first such flight between the countries for more than two years.

They broke off all ties in 2001 after India blamed Pakistan for involvement in an armed attack on the federal parliament in Delhi.

But symbolic ties have strengthened recently and both countries now say they want talks to resolve differences.

On Thursday thousands of people attended a government-sponsored rally in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir.

Protestors were demanding the two countries open a key highway that once linked the divided Himalayan region.

The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayed, appealed to militants to shun violence ahead of a regional summit this weekend.

Earlier, a suspected militant was killed and seven people injured when a bomb he was carrying on a bicycle exploded.

New flights schedule

Initially, there will be six flights a week linking Karachi and Lahore with Delhi and Bombay, but this could increase to 12 a week after a month.

India's state-owned short-haul carrier, Indian Airlines, is to make its first flight to Pakistan on 9 January - between Dehli and Lahore.

The resumption of flights between the two countries is a matter of satisfaction for the people of both sides
Captain Tasleem Muzaffar

Plans are also afoot to start a regular service between the commercial centres of Mumbai and Karachi.

PIA says it hopes by March 2004 to be operating 12 flights a week to India.

Although flights have resumed, stringent visa restrictions remain in place between the two countries.

Divided families

Thousands of families were divided when the border between India and Pakistan was drawn up in 1947.

For the past two years, those wishing to meet their relatives have had to undertake costly, cumbersome journeys via a third country.

Rashida Amber - one of 42 passengers on the inaugural flight - said she was travelling to Delhi to attend her niece's wedding.

"Had there been no flight I would not have been able to attend the marriage," she added.

The move to restart flights follows the restoration of a popular bus service between Delhi and Lahore last year.

Thaw in relations

Indian and Pakistani leaders are set to meet at a regional summit in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Formal talks are likely to focus on trade issues. There has been no confirmation that more divisive issues, like militancy and the dispute over Kashmir, will be discussed.

Correspondents say a recent thaw in relations has raised hopes of an early return to formal dialogue.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Delhi said on Wednesday that India was keen to hold talks with Pakistan to launch new bus links between the two countries, raise the strength of their missions and remove restrictions on the movement of diplomats.

He said India was willing to discuss two new bus routes.

One would link Munabao in the Indian state of Rajasthan with Khokrapar in Pakistan's Sindh province.

The other would link Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir with Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

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