Kashmir avalanche: Up to 135 feared dead on Siachen

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Map of Kashmir

The number of people feared dead in an avalanche in the disputed Kashmir region has risen to 135, the Pakistan army has said.

Spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the BBC 124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians were missing after 21m (70ft) of snow engulfed a military camp near the Siachen Glacier on Saturday.

He had earlier said that 100 soldiers and 11 civilians were missing.

Rescuers have yet to find any survivors.

Maj Gen Abbas told the BBC's Orla Guerin, in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, that the avalanche had covered an area of 1 sq km (0.39 sq m).

Sniffer dogs

The search was called off late on Saturday due to darkness and poor weather, but is set to resume early on Sunday.

Hundreds of troops, plus sniffer dogs and helicopters are involved in the rescue operation.

In a statement, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed shock at the disaster, but said it "in no way would undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers."

The camp, located 15,000ft (4,572 m) above sea level in Kashmir's Gayari district, near the border with India, was engulfed by snow at around 06:00 local time (01:00 GMT).

Maj Gen Abbas earlier described the avalanche as "very massive".

He also warned it could take several days to complete the rescue operation, which was unprecedented in scale for such a location, where temperatures can plunge to minus 70 Celsius.

'Prone to avalanches'

As of yet, there has been no communication with any of the missing soldiers, who were from the Northern Light Infantry regiment, which is trained in mountain operations.

The region is prone to avalanches, the major general said, although they typically occur in "forward bases" at higher altitude, where only 10 or 20 troops are located.

One officer who had been stationed at the base in 2003 said he could not "comprehend how an avalanche can reach that place".

"It was supposed to be safe," he told the Associated Press.

A previous avalanche in the area killed 24 Pakistani troops in 2010 - believed to be the heaviest loss of life in such an incident until now.

Kashmir has been partitioned between India and Pakistan since 1947.

Failure to agree on the status of the territory by diplomatic means has twice brought India and Pakistan to war.

The Siachen glacier is known as the world's highest battlefield, and soldiers have been deployed at elevations of up to 6,700m (22,000 feet).

However, more soldiers have died from the harsh weather conditions there than in combat.

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