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Page last updated at 11:15 GMT, Tuesday, 21 October 2008 12:15 UK

Kashmir rivals reopen trade route

A fruit dealer in Indian administered Kashmir on his way to the Line of Control
Many traders have enthusiastically welcomed the move

An old trade route has reopened after 60 years across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides disputed Kashmir.

Trucks carrying fruit, nuts and honey were flagged off by Indian officials from Salamabad in Indian-administered Kashmir under tight security.

Lorries are expected to arrive later on Tuesday from the Pakistani side, bringing rice, rock salt and furniture.

The opening of the trade route is part of a 2004 peace agreement between India and Pakistan, which both claim Kashmir.

The trade link follows other confidence-building measures introduced in Kashmir in recent years, including the opening of rail and bus links.

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Pakistani trucks cross a bridge into Indian-administered Kashmir

The governments of India and Pakistan hope that these steps will bolster the four-year-old peace agreement, which has recently come under strain.

The South Asian rivals have fought two of their three wars over the disputed territory and have yet to tackle the core issues of the Kashmir dispute, sovereignty and control of territory.

Tuesday's exchange of goods is seen as just as beginning, symbolically making the divide in Kashmir just a bit smaller.

Traders hope the trade link - which will operate from both sides two times a week - will grow into something much more significant.

Drum beating

The BBC's Altaf Hussain says the atmosphere in Salamabad, on the Indian side of the LoC, on Tuesday morning was festive.

I have always dreamed of going to the other side (of LoC), but I never thought I would be driving a lorry there so soon
Truck driver Mohammad Arif

Our correspondent says that the overwhelming majority of separatist groups in Indian administered Kashmir have welcomed the move - while most militants groups have not commented.

Hundreds of people gathered to watch NN Vohra, the governor of Jammu and Kashmir state, flag off the lorries in a brief ceremony.

Thirteen trucks, most carrying fresh fruit, began their journey towards the de facto border, accompanied by the beating of drums and singing by school children.

"I'm very happy that trade has been renewed after six decades. But I still don't now how traders like me would get their money for their goods," trader Haji Farooq Ahmad told the BBC.

'Highly significant'

On the Pakistani side the atmosphere was one of equal excitement.

Two lorries carrying goods from Pakistani-administered Kashmir crossed the LoC in Chakothi sector and entered Indian-administered Kashmir before dawn.

Map

The Prime Minister of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, Sardar Atique Ahmad Khan, was present to see off the lorries.

Officials said 14 more trucks carrying rice, onions, garlic, spices, dried fruit and shoes were due to leave Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, for Salamabad later on Tuesday.

Under the terms of the deal, lorry drivers from both sides are being issued single-entry permits to transport the goods.

Drivers from the Indian side will offload their goods at Chakothi, from where they will be picked up by Pakistani lorries.

Drivers from the Pakistani side will likewise drop their goods off at Salamabad, where they will be collected by Indian lorries.

Trade is restricted for now to 21 items produced in the Kashmir region.

Economists say that the reopening of the trade route is highly significant, because the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road is an all-weather road - unlike other roads linking Srinagar with India that become cut off when it snows.

In addition, the route offers the shortest route for Srinagar's produce to reach its markets.

Intra-Kashmir trade was mooted in 2004 as part of the peace process between India and Pakistan.

Analysts say trade between the two countries could reach $6bn a year if both sides ease restrictions.

In recent weeks, Indian-administered Kashmir has seen massive protests against Indian rule.

Some 30 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and Indian security forces in the protests.


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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Guardian Unlimited Kashmir trade route reopens after 60 years - 15 hrs ago
Arab News Trade between divided Kashmir resumes after 61 years - 16 hrs ago
The Times Trucks bear the fruits of peace as Kashmir trade route reopens after 61 years - 17 hrs ago
ABCNEWS.com 60 Years Later, Kashmir Trade Route Opens - 23 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Historic Kashmir trade route opened - 25 hrs ago



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