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Last Updated: Monday, 14 March 2005, 17:48 GMT
Kashmiris clamour for bus permits
People in Pakistani-administered Kashmir queue for permit forms for the new bus service
Many celebrated as they picked up their special travel documents
Thousands of people have queued in Pakistani-administered Kashmir to get special permit forms for the first bus services to cross the ceasefire line.

Long lines of men and women of all ages thronged outside government offices in the regional capital, Muzaffarabad.

"They are very happy and enthusiastic and cheering," one official said.

Many families divided by the Kashmir dispute hope to be reunited by the bus service, agreed by India and Pakistan as part of a peace initiative.

Some have not seen friends and relatives living on opposite sides of the Line of Control dividing Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir for decades.

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Several thousand permit forms were handed out by the authorities in Muzaffarabad and half a dozen districts in Pakistani-administered Kashmir on Monday, government official Mohammed Tayyab said.

"Many of the people who came today wanted to travel on the first bus," he told Associated Press news agency.

They have joined the separated families after half a century
Ghulam Mohammed Lolabi

Those queuing up had to show their Pakistani identity card to receive an application form to travel on the service, scheduled to start on 7 April.

The buses will link Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, with Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

The two sides agreed to issue special travel documents for the service - instead of requiring passports and visas - after long negotiations.

Many people celebrated as they collected their application forms.

Eighty-five-year-old Ghulam Mohammed Lolabi praised Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for agreeing on the service.

Workers repair the road linking Muzaffarabad and Srinagar
Officials say road repairs should be finished in time for the first buses

"They have joined the separated families after half a century," he told AFP news agency.

Another recipient, 72-year-old Rasheed Khan, said: "I am feeling so happy. I will see my home after 60 years."

Others had to leave the lines empty-handed but said they intended to queue up again on Tuesday for their chance of a form.

Many in Indian-administered Kashmir were left disappointed earlier this month after the authorities in Srinagar handed out only 100 forms for the first buses on 7 and 14 April.

Officials said repairs to the road between Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir - closed to traffic for decades - were well under way, ready for the first buses.




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