Pakistan army says little hope for 139 in avalanche

ISLAMABAD Sat Apr 14, 2012 11:05pm IST

The Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram mountain range north of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is seen in this October 4, 2003 file photo. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski/Files

The Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram mountain range north of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is seen in this October 4, 2003 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski/Files

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - There is little hope that any of the 128 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians buried under an avalanche that engulfed a battalion at an alpine camp a week ago will be found alive, Pakistan's army said on Saturday.

"We are praying to God for a miracle," Major General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmad, the head of military operations, said at a press conference in the garrison town of Rawalpindi.

Bad weather has hampered efforts to try to find survivors of the avalanche that trapped its victims beneath 25 m (80 feet) of snow in one of the most unforgiving environments in the world.

The disaster struck early on Saturday a week ago at an altitude of 4,000 m (13,000 feet) near the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram mountain range.

Ahmad said the sheer size of the avalanche, which covered an area about one km (half a mile) wide, and the increasingly bad weather conditions were the biggest hurdles to the rescue effort.

He said the military had used the camp for more than 20 years, had never before faced a disaster of such magnitude and would not yet abandon the search.

"We are continuing with both rescue and recovery. We are hoping to continue the rescue efforts until such a time that we get to the people over there," he said.

Pakistan has accepted international help from countries including the United States and China. Nine international experts from Germany and Switzerland are at the rescue site but the U.S. team hasn't been able to make it due to bad weather.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three full-scale wars since independence from Britain in 1947.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.

(Reporting By Mahawish Rezvi; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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