Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Northwestern Pakistan hit by severe aftershock

AP , MUZAFFARABAD, PAKISTAN

A severe aftershock jolted northwestern Pakistan yesterday, a day after India sharply curtailed plans, for now, to open its Kashmir border with Pakistan to help survivors of the region's massive Oct. 8 quake.

There were no immediate reports of damage from yesterday's temblor in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, but it measured 6.0 -- the highest magnitude so far for an aftershock of last month's massive 7.6-magnitude quake, seismologists in the northwestern city of Peshawar said.

The 1,190 aftershocks since that earthquake have sparked landslides that added to the debris blocking roads needed to distribute much-needed aid to remote mountain settlements. Yesterday's jolt unleashed at least one landslide near the northwestern city of Balakot but it did not block traffic, Pakistani army Lieutenant Colonel Saeed Iqbal said.

Forecasts of snow in northern Pakistan added to the ordeal for hundreds of thousands of survivors still without shelter nearly a month after the quake, as UN and other aid agencies struggle with limited budgets to deliver help by helicopter before winter.

Cuban President Fidel Castro called Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, to express solidarity and offer to send an additional 200 Cuban doctors to the quake zone -- to join 87 already there, state-run Pakistan Television reported yesterday.

"Cuba stands by Pakistan in this hour of trial," PTV quoted Castro as saying late on Saturday.

After the Oct. 8 quake killed about 80,000 people -- most in Pakistan's territory but also 1,350 in India's portion of divided Kashmir -- the two longtime rivals reached a breakthrough agreement to open five border crossings starting today to ease the flow of aid.

But India said on Saturday that only one crossing into Pakistani territory would be ready, a glitch in the disaster diplomacy that has brought the countries closer in a time of need. However, New Delhi said work would continue on clearing the routes, and that two additional ones might be ready in the coming week.

Many survivors are eager to cross over to check on relatives, exchange provisions and seek help at relief camps being set up along the heavily militarized border.

Indian army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel V.K. Batra said that two of the Kashmir frontier crossings were not ready because of land mines and landslides on the Indian side, but he also blamed Pakistan for delays in clearing two other routes, saying its work on bridges at the crossings was incomplete.

Pakistani officials, however, said their side was ready to open all five crossings.

"All preparations on the Pakistan side are complete at the designated places," Pakistan's army said in a statement.

In Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir, Deputy Police Chief Ata Ullah said diplomats from both countries had been slated to meet on Saturday to exchange lists of people intending to cross over -- but the meeting was canceled. He did not explain why.

Ullah said the cancelation raised doubts about whether any crossings would take place today.

Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan after the bloody partition of the subcontinent following independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir in a dispute that has sparked two wars and kept families separated for more than half a century. The quake left more than 3 million people homeless.

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