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India, Pakistan resuming air links

Indian Civil Aviation Director General Satyendra Singh, left, greets Pakistani Additional Secretary of Ministry of Defense, ret. Maj. Gen. Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry at talks in New Delhi.
Indian Civil Aviation Director General Satyendra Singh, left, greets Pakistani Additional Secretary of Ministry of Defense, ret. Maj. Gen. Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry at talks in New Delhi.

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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- India and Pakistan have agreed to resume civilian air traffic between the two countries in January, aviation officials say.

The deal will probably pave the way for a meeting early next year between Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf at a regional diplomatic summit in Islamabad.

In a joint statement released by civilian aviation officials from both nations Monday, "the two sides agreed to resume simultaneous air links and over flights with effect from January, 1, 2004 on a reciprocal basis."

The agreement also allows planes flying to and from India to use Pakistani airspace, and opens India's airspace to planes going to and from Pakistan.

Flights were suspended in December 2001 after an attack on India's parliament that New Delhi blamed on Pakistan -- a claim Islamabad denied.

Vajpayee is due to travel to Islamabad for the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) from January 4 to 6.

Resuming bus service, train links

A bus service connecting New Delhi with the Pakistani city of Lahore that was resumed in July is the only transport service between the neighbors.

But both sides have said they wanted to resume train services and discuss new links, including a bus between the Indian- and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir and a ferry between Bombay and Karachi.

Officials say peace proposals by both sides in recent weeks would help prepare an atmosphere for the summit -- already delayed a year because of the tension -- to go ahead.

But India insists there cannot be bilateral talks on the margins of the summit until Pakistan stops sponsoring Islamic militants fighting its rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.

A cease-fire between India and Pakistan took effect along the Line of Control (LOC) last week, in a bid to end the two countries' decades-long dispute over Kashmir.

Indian and Pakistani forces routinely trade fire across the U.N.-drawn LOC that separates Pakistan-controlled Kashmir from Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Pakistan and India have gone to war three times since they were carved out of British colonial India in 1947, twice over Kashmir, which they both claim, where tens of thousands have died in a 14-year Muslim insurgency.

India has so far refused to resume peace talks, saying Pakistan must end support for Muslim militants fighting its rule in Kashmir.

Islamabad denies that charge and accuses New Delhi of rights abuses in the disputed region.


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