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Sonia flags off bus to Rawalkot
Urges separatists to join talks
S.P. Sharma
Tribune News Service

Poonch, June 20
The UPA Chairperson, Ms Sonia Gandhi, today urged the separatists to take part in the roundtable discussions initiated by the Congress- led government at the Centre that was committed to solve the Kashmir issue with “an open mind”.

Ms Gandhi, who was addressing a public meeting in this border town after inaugurating the passenger bus service between here and Rawalkot in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), said all sections in Kashmir should participate in the roundtable conferences to put forth their viewpoint.

She did not name the Hurriyat Conference that has abstained from the two roundtable conferences held so far, but said those people should understand that peace was imperative for prosperity and development of the state that has seen bloodshed for the past 16 years.

Ms Gandhi hoped that everyone would come forward in future as the Centre and the state were keen on solving the Kashmir issue. “No path towards peace will emerge without a dialogue. We want that peace and development are restored in the state,” she said.

She described the introduction of the bus service as yet another step towards pulling down the walls of hatred and animosity. Such confidence-building measures (CBMs) were a bridge towards friendship between the two countries. Reopening of roadlinks had helped in removing mistrust. She said India was taking more CBMs to ease tension between both countries.

The Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, said the opening of road links was among the CBMs that were aimed at avoiding conflicts and creating a friendly atmosphere among the two countries.

Saying that President Pervez Musharraf has assured to check cross-border terrorism, he hoped that he would stick to his words.

Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said the peace process had been strengthened and carried forward by the UPA government with firm commitment for peace and friendship with Pakistan. The opening of the Poonch-Rawalkot road would go a long way in creating an atmosphere of peace.

Earlier, amidst emotional scenes, the passenger bus service between this border town of Jammu and Rawalkot in the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) was flagged off by Ms Gandhi.

There was enthusiasm among the people as Ms Gandhi flagged off the bus. The venue of the flagging-off ceremony was shifted here from Chakan-da-Bagh on the Line of Control (LoC) in view of the terrorist threats.

The flagging off the bus from Rawalkot to Poonch by PoK Prime Minister Hyat Khan did not evoke any hype as no Pakistani minister or senior officer participated in the function. Indian mediapersons were also not allowed to reach Rawalkot to cover the event.

While the bus from here carried 30 passengers, the one that came from Rawalkot had 57 persons on board.

Ms Gandhi said the fortnightly bus service was bound to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. It was a happy occasion that would provide the divided families and friends on either side of the LoC to meet. The roadlinks between J&K and PoK would soon be opened for trade. She presented roses and souvenirs to the passengers who boarded the bus here.

Hundreds of local residents who had gathered to witness the historic event cheered as the bus of the J&K Road Transport Corporation flagged off at 12.15 pm.

The bus service restored after a gap of 58 years will cover the 39- km distance between here and Rawalkot and will be a big relief for the families that were divided due to partition of the country.

However, the buses will not cross the LoC and the passengers will be transshipped after clearing of documents at the immigration centre. The J&K Bank has established a currency exchange counter at Chakan-da-Bagh, which is the entry point into the Indian territory on the LoC.

This is the second bus service linking the divided Kashmir. The first one between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad was inaugurated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in April last year.

Fifteen of the passengers in the bus that left from here were residents of PoK who had crossed from various points in Mendhar and Poonch following the earthquake of October 8. Tight security arrangements were made not only in the town, but also in the entire district. 



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