by Staff Writers
Muzaffarabad, Pakistan (AFP) Nov 30, 2012
A landslide killed three Pakistani soldiers in mountainous Kashmir Friday, while 18 people sent to rescue them were missing after being buried by a second landslip, officials said.
A military rescue operation swung into action after heavy snows triggered the two landslides at a remote outpost in the Kel area of Pakistan-administered Kashmir near the de facto border with India.
The bodies of the three soldiers had been recovered but rescuers were still hunting for the eight soldiers and 10 civilians from the search party, local official Raja Saqib Majeed told AFP.
"We hope that rescue workers will find some of them alive. Lets hope for the best," he said, but added that efforts were being hampered by continued bad weather.
Disputed Kashmir has caused two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since their independence from Britain in 1947.
But with separatist violence having dropped sharply since a peace process was started in 2004, the greatest dangers facing soldiers stationed at remote outposts are often landslides and extreme conditions.
In April, 140 Pakistani soldiers were buried when a huge wall of snow crashed into the remote Siachen Glacier base high in the mountains in disputed Kashmir. They have all been declared dead, although some of the bodies remain buried.
That tragedy renewed debate about how much sense it made for a country where millions live below the poverty line to maintain outposts in Siachen, dubbed "the world's highest battleground", at immense cost when violence had fallen.
And in February, at least 16 Indian soldiers on duty in the mountains of Kashmir were killed when two avalanches swept through army camps.
In Friday's accident, a wall of mud and snow hit the outpost in the early hours, said Majeed, deputy commissioner of Neelam district, of which Kel is part.
The 18-strong team was quickly dispatched to search for the soldiers at the outpost, which is 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Pakistan-administered Kashmir's main town of Muzaffarabad, he said.
But he added that "another landslide hit this rescue party and they were buried under it". Civilian rescuers were bolstering the military's rescue mission, he said.
Local police official Mohammad Musa said there had been heavy snow fall in the past 24 hours in the area and cloud cover remained thick.
The military confirmed the accident in a statement: "Three soldiers embraced shahadat (martyrdom). Eight soldiers and 10 civilians are also missing."
Separatist violence has fallen in Muslim-majority, heavily militarised Kashmir, but occasional gunfights still erupt between militants and the security forces.
India accuses Pakistan of backing Islamist militants on its side of the divided region, a charge Islamabad denies.
India suspended a full peace dialogue with Pakistan following the 2008 attack by Islamist gunmen on Mumbai that killed 166 people but warily resumed it early last year.
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