Pakistan avalanche: Search resumes

2012-04-08 11:20

Islamabad - The Pakistani military was on Sunday to relaunch rescue efforts to find survivors after an avalanche engulfed an army camp high in the mountains of Kashmir, leaving up to 135 people feared dead.

The search on the Siachen Glacier, where Pakistani and Indian troops face off on what is known as the world's highest battlefield, was called off late on Saturday because of darkness and poor weather.

No survivors had been found after an all-day search involving more than 150 soldiers, sniffer dogs, and helicopters of the avalanche site that covered an area of one-square kilometre.

The military said in a statement that 135 people were missing from the camp after Saturday's disaster, including 124 soldiers.

A tailor and two hairdressers were among civilians buried as the avalanche hit the militarised region, which is close to the de facto border with India in the Muslim-majority Kashmir region, over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.

12 hour search

Siachen became a flashpoint when India occupied key areas in 1984, including the heights, prompting Pakistan to immediately respond by deploying its own forces.

India and Pakistan fought a fierce battle over Siachen in 1987, raising fears of all-out conflict, although the guns on the glacier have largely fallen silent since a peace process was launched in 2004.

After 12 hours of searching on Saturday, army spokesperson Major General Athar Abbas told AFP that, contrary to local media reports, no bodies or survivors had been found.

Heavy machinery to assist with rescue efforts has been transported to the far-flung and deeply inhospitable area, a security official said. A team of doctors and paramedics were also rushed to the region after the avalanche.

The avalanche struck early on Saturday morning, a military statement said, raising the possibility that the buried soldiers were asleep at the time.

Heavy military presence

India and Pakistan have spent heavily to keep a military presence on the glacier.

Experts have previously said that India has around 5 000 troops on the glacier, while Pakistan has less than half that number. The harsh weather and altitude claim many more lives than actual fighting.

Avalanches and landslides frequently block roads and leave communities isolated in the mountains of Pakistan, neighbouring Afghanistan and in Kashmir.

In February, at least 16 Indian soldiers on duty in the mountains of Kashmir were killed when two avalanches swept through army camps.

Kashmir has caused two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since their independence in 1947 from Britain.