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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 November 2005, 14:17 GMT
Civilians cross Kashmiri divide
Begum Jan crosses into Pakistani-administered Kashmir
Begum Jan - 'like going on a Haj'
India has allowed a group of 24 civilians to cross over into Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

It is the first such crossing since the 8 October earthquake. Some said they were hoping to be reunited with relatives after decades of separation.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said both countries should seize the moment to resolve their long-running dispute over Kashmir.

The two sides say progress is being made on border related security issues.

Helped across

"I feel as if I were going on the Haj pilgrimage", 80-year-old Begum Jan said before crossing over into Pakistan-administered Kashmir from the Teethwal sector on the Indian side.

She had to be helped across a suspension bridge built by Pakistani engineers. Eight other women were in the group, most of whom were elderly, the BBC's Altaf Hussein reports.

One man, Haji Abdul Rehman Malik, said he was visiting Pakistan-ruled Kashmir for the first time since the partition of India in 1947.

Pakistan and India army officers shake hands as they open a border crossing
The two countries have opened five border crossings

"I want to see my brother and nephews. I have no idea whether they are alive. I am worried."

A middle-aged woman, Rafila Begum said: "I am going to mourn the death of my relatives." She believes that six of her close relatives were killed in the earthquake.

One man, Anwar Sadiq, 35, said the earthquake had brought down political barriers for Kashmiri people.

"I could never think of visiting that village across the [de facto Kashmir border] before", he said.

India and Pakistan agreed last month to open five crossing points along the United Nations designated Line of Control that divides Kashmir.

Goods have already been transported across, but there have been repeated delays in granting permission for civilians to cross as the two sides had agreed.

One group of civilians from the Indian side who had crossed before the earthquake were stranded there after the disaster.

They finally returned to the Indian side on Thursday.

President Musharraf has called on India to end its differences with Pakistan over Kashmir.

He told donors at an earthquake relief conference in Islamabad that that would be India's "donation" to the relief effort.

India's representative at the conference, junior foreign minister E Ahmad, said that India was "prepared to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan, including the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, dialogue... in an atmosphere free from terrorism and violence".

Frequent meetings

Away from Kashmir, India and Pakistan said they have made significant headway in improving relations along those parts of their border areas which are not under dispute.

After three days of talks in the Indian city of Chandigarh, the two sides agreed on increasing coordinated patrols along the border.

They also agreed on more frequent meetings between local area commandants and sector commanders to resolve problems.

Both delegation leaders said important progress has been made on simplifying procedures around the repatriation of civilians who inadvertently cross the often poorly marked border.


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