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Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Monday, 8 February 2010

Kashmir avalanche kills 17 soldiers, Indian army says

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Rescuers have been combing the area for survivors

At least 17 Indian soldiers have been killed after an avalanche hit a military training camp in Indian-administered Kashmir, the army says.

Dozens of troops were rescued after the avalanche struck near Gulmarg, the region's main ski resort, about 50km (30 miles) west of Srinagar.

The army said 17 soldiers were injured. Rescue teams have returned to base.

Avalanches are common in Kashmir, but this is one of the deadliest to occur in the region in recent years.

About 400 troops were stationed at the high-altitude camp, part of which is said to have been engulfed in snow.

Tourists were unaffected by the avalanche because it happened at a higher altitude than the nearby ski resort, officials said.

'High winds'

The soldiers were on a training exercise at the Indian army's high altitude warfare school, nearly 3,000m (more than 9,000ft) above sea level in the Khelenmarg mountains.

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"We have 17 dead and 17 injured. No-one is missing and rescue teams have returned to their bases," army spokesman Col Vineet Sood told the AFP news agency.

An army statement said all soldiers were out of danger.

Heavy snow, fog and high winds had hampered rescue efforts which went on for hours.

Casualty numbers rose steadily after reports of the disaster first emerged on Monday. Among the dead is at least one officer.

"It's been snowing here for the last four days," another army spokesman, Col Jagmohan Brar, told the BBC.

"We had about 70 people buried in the avalanche."

The avalanche struck close to the Line of Control, the disputed de facto border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Skier at Gulmarg

Avalanches and landslides occur frequently in Kashmir, often blocking roads and cutting off resorts like Gulmarg.

Last June seven Indian soldiers were killed in an avalanche in Kupwara district. Another 12 people were killed a month earlier on the Pakistani side of the heavily-militarised dividing line.

In 2005, an avalanche near villages in the Neelum valley on the Pakistani side killed more than 40 people.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.

The two sides have tens of thousands of troops stationed in the region, where a ceasefire has been in place since 2003.



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