Siachen Glacier trekking expedition begins

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Srinagar, Sept 26: A trekking expedition to the Siachen Glacier has begun, despite objections from the Pakistan Government. "The first of its kind expedition left for the Siachen Glacier on Tuesday," army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Anil Mathur said. He said the 43-member team included civilians, men from the army, journalists and students from several military training schools.

Mathur said it would take some 20 days for the trekkers to make the trip to the 6,300-metre (20,800-feet) high Siachen Glacier, a battlefield occupied by Indian and Pakistani troops since 1984.

Pakistan and India launched a peace process in 2004 and the guns on the glacier have largely fallen silent, but Siachen remains a bone of contention in negotiations.

Pakistan last week protested to India after the trek was announced as a first step to opening up Siachen to tourists, warning it could hurt the peace process.

Pakistan foreign ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said India's Deputy High Commissioner had been summoned to receive a "strong protest" over the trek plan.

"The area remains a conflict zone and the reported move by India to open this for tourism could aggravate the situation with serious consequences that vitiate the atmosphere for the ongoing peace process," she said.

Experts say India has around 5,000 troops on the glacier, while Pakistan has less than half that number. Harsh weather and the high altitude claims many more lives than actual fighting over Siachen.

Pakistan also lodged protests with Britain and India over a joint military exercise in Kashmir's Ladakh region, of which Siachen is a part.

Britain's Royal Marines last week kicked off 25 days of joint high-altitude exercises with the Indian army in Ladakh.

Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan each hold part of Kashmir but claim all of it. Kashmir has sparked two of their three wars since independence 60 years ago.


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