Annan appeals for aid for quake victims

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today appealed to donors to give generously for victims of the devastating October 8 earthquake in Asia, as Kashmiri civilians were poised to cross the disputed territory’s frontier.

Arriving in Pakistan, Annan’s visit comes a day after Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf appealed for more than $5bn (€4.3bn) in aid to rebuild the earthquake-ravaged north.

“What happened here, the earthquake, was something that the world could not have imagined,” Annan said after arriving at an air base at Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, on a three-day visit that will include a tour of the quake zone and an international donors’ conference on Saturday.

“I would expect the world … to be generous, to give and give willingly.”

The magnitude 7.6 quake left more than 87,000 dead, mostly in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. About 1,350 died in India’s portion of the territory, which is claimed in its entirety by both countries but divided between them by a cease-fire line.

The quake destroyed the homes of about three million people, leaving hundreds of thousands living in tents. An unknown number have no shelter at all.

Annan said additional deaths had been caused by logistical problems in getting aid to quake victims and said more could die of cold and hunger.

“We need more resources, not just for the emergency, but recovery and reconstruction, and I hope that as we rebuild we are going rebuild better houses,” Annan said, appealing to both governments, the private sector and individual donors to contribute funds.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said 83 Indian citizens had been given approval to walk into Pakistan at the Chakothi-Uri border crossing on Thursday – but officials at the Kashmir frontier said it wasn’t clear whether any would actually cross.

Also, it did not appear any Pakistanis would be travelling to the Indian side, although some from India who had arrived on a cross-Kashmir bus service before the quake and were then stranded on the Pakistan side appeared set to return to the India.

Pakistan and India agreed last month to let people from either side of Kashmir cross over at five points along the frontier. So far, the two sides have only exchanged relief supplies.

Delays in letting people cross have been blamed on bureaucratic problems and Indians’ fears that separatist Muslim militants may cross from Pakistan.

Islamic militants have been fighting since 1989 for the Indian-controlled part of Muslim-majority Kashmir’s independence from predominantly Hindu India, or merger with mostly Muslim Pakistan.

More than 66,000 people have died in the conflict.

Ahead of the aid conference, Musharraf said Pakistan had so far received “negligible” funds from donors, but expressed confidence it could raise aid needed for relief and reconstruction.

He said the world community should help Pakistan as it did nations hit by last year’s devastating tsunami in Asia. He said that a lack of funds would hurt national development, particularly in the social sector, but that Pakistan would fend for itself.

The UN is stressing the need for more financial support to sustain its emergency relief effort through the winter, warning that thousands more could die from hunger and cold.

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