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Zardari visits avalanche-hit area in Siachen

Source: PTI
April 18, 2012 19:29 IST
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Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday conducted an aerial survey of the area in Siachen sector where Pakistani troops are involved in a frantic search for 138 people, mostly soldiers, buried under dozens of feet of snow following an avalanche that hit an army camp 11 days ago.

The visit to Gyari area by the President, who is the supreme commander of the armed forces, was aimed at expressing solidarity with the troops and monitoring the search and rescue efforts underway at the site.

State-run television beamed footage of Zardari, clad in black, conducting a survey of the site of the avalanche in a helicopter along with army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and senior military officials. "The president, during his visit, had an aerial view of the search and rescue activities being undertaken by the army personnel," an official statement said. He was given a detailed briefing about the operation by Force Command Northern Areas Commander Maj Gen Ikram-ul-Haq.

Zardari appreciated efforts being made by the army in the search operation and paid tributes to the soldiers, saying the country was "indebted to these sons of the soil and prays for them from the very core of their hearts". He directed officials to use all available resources to expedite the operation "in view of any possible snow slides due to temperature rise".

Earlier in the day, Zardari and Interior Minister Rehman Malik flew from Islamabad to Skardu, the town nearest the site of the avalanche.

Zardari was scheduled to visit the Siachen sector on Monday but the trip was put off due to bad weather.

Photographs released by the military today showed rescuers digging a tunnel to reach the buried men and using electrical saws to cut through large blocks of grey ice at Gyari, the location of the battalion headquarters that was hit by the avalanche on April 7.

The search teams have focussed on several "priority points" and excavated over 100 feet at two sites in their search for 127 soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry and 11 civilians who were buried by the avalanche.

The avalanche that slammed into a high-altitude army camp covered an area of one square kilometre.

More than 450 rescuers are working at the site though experts have said there is virtually no chance of finding any survivors.

Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in a standoff on the Siachen glacier since 1984.

The guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir, and more troops have died due to the adverse weather than combat.

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