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Access to humanitarian aid in Kashmir

November 17, 2005 12:00 AM
By Liz Lynne

Mr President, the horrifying images and tragic personal stories following the earthquake of 8 October might have left our television screens and the front pages of our newspapers, but let us not forget the need for urgent aid is just as great, particularly because of the onset of winter. Already there have been 74 000 deaths and getting aid to those in need is a race against time. The Pakistan Government has put the financial cost of the earthquake at USD 5 billion. The EU has already contributed substantially, but we must do more, much more, and so should the rest of the international community.

But it is not just about money; it is about access; it is about helicopters and other equipment to reach inaccessible areas. Access over the line of control between India-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir is also of vital importance. I am very pleased that India and Pakistan have opened the five crossing points for goods and I hope other crossing points will be opened as well, not just for goods: civilians should also be allowed to cross. People with relatives and friends on the other side want to help. They want to bring much-needed support and relief, and at present they are unable to do so. Already, 950 Kashmiris on the Indian side and 2 000 on the Pakistani side have asked for permits. I know it is difficult because of the long-standing dispute over Kashmir, but I hope that the applications can be processed quickly.

This human tragedy demands a compassionate response. Let us hope that out of this terrible tragedy something good will come and that the survivors may be allowed to live in peace. I hope that, at last, a just solution to this 58-year dispute over Kashmir can be found, involving both Pakistan and India but, above all, the Kashmiri people who have suffered enough already.