Nato ends quake relief

2006-01-31 21:40
Islamabad - Nato on Tuesday announced the end of its 90-day relief operation in quake-ravaged regions of northwest Pakistan and Kashmir, saying its troops had successfully completed their mission.

Some of the 1 000-strong Nato contingent have already left while the remainder will leave in coming days.

"Nato has withdrawn from Kashmir by 1st February as promised," the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's chief of disaster relief operations, Andrew Walton, told a media briefing.

"Nato's only purpose was to assist the people of Pakistan," he said, adding that the overall focus was now shifting from relief to reconstruction.

The 7.6 magnitude October 8 earthquake killed more than 73 000 people and made 3.5 million homeless in northwest Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir.

During the initial critical phase Nato provided the largest single contribution to the air bridge, flying 3 435 tons of relief goods and food items in 168 flights, Walton said.

But the Nato presence also drew criticism mainly from Pakistan's fundamentalist Islamic parties.

They said the deployment of foreign troops in the sensitive Kashmir region, which is disputed with India, was against the national interest.

Walton said Nato flights delivered nearly 505 300 blankets, nearly 17 500 stoves, more than 31 500 mattresses, 45 800 sleeping bags and tons of medical supplies.

Nato has now handed over responsibility to Pakistan authorities, he said.

Nato's disaster relief operation was a "direct and tailored response" to the request of the Pakistani government and was focused on providing assistance as quickly as possible, Walton said.

"We have left behind an image of Nato as a force for good, as a capable, professional and trustworthy organisation," he said.

Pakistan military spokesperson, Shaukat Sultan, praised Nato's contribution.

"On behalf of the Pakistan army, people and the government of Pakistan I express extreme gratitude to Nato's disaster relief team. They are leaving behind fond memories."

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