Pakistan declares Siachen avalanche buried dead

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Pakistani military personnel use heavy machinery as they search for avalanche victims during an ongoing operation at Gayari camp near the Siachen glacier on April 18, 2012.Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Digging operations at the site of the avalanche have been going on for weeks

Pakistan has declared 129 soldiers and 11 civilians dead, seven weeks after a massive avalanche in the disputed Kashmir region buried an army camp.

On 7 April 21m (70ft) of snow engulfed a military camp in Gayari near the Siachen Glacier.

The announcement that those buried are "martyrs" comes days after the first body from the avalanche was dug out.

The incident prompted calls for India and Pakistan to withdraw troops from the contested glacier.

The battalion headquarters of the 6th Northern Light Infantry, located 15,000ft (4,572 m) above sea level in Kashmir's Gayari district, near the border with India, was hit by an avalanche at around 06:00 local time (01:00 GMT) on 7 April.

Although rescue efforts began shortly after news of the avalanche in the remote region reached officials, freezing and arduous conditions made hope of rescuing any of those trapped virtually impossible.

Over the past seven weeks rescuers have been digging tunnels in the snow and ice to try to recover the bodies, AFP news agency reports.

So far only three bodies have been recovered.

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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