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May 29, 2012 at 01:07pm IST

Pakistan declares troops buried in Siachen avalanche as 'martyrs'

Islamabad: Pakistan Army on May 29 declared all the 139 soldiers as dead who were buried alive by an avalanche at a high-altitude camp in the Siachen sector, proclaiming them as "shuhada" (martyrs).

A military statement declaring them dead came days after rescuers recovered three bodies from the remote glacier where a huge avalanche buried them in early hours of April 7.

The military said that the decision to proclaim them "shuhada" (martyrs) was made after consulting the “religious leaders of prominence from all sects and factions".

Troops buried in Siachen avalanche are âmartyrsâ: Pak

An avalanche hit a Pakistan army camp at Gyari on April 7 resulting in the death of several soldiers.

The army, however, assured that it would "continue its efforts to recover the bodies of all “shuhada".

There had been an intense debate within the army over the issue of how to name the missing personnel after the avalanche hit the camp at Gyari on April 7.

Within days of the incident, experts and the former army officers had said it was unlikely that anyone in the camp had survived.

The army, however, did not refer to the personnel as martyrs due to the sensitivities involved.

Search teams recovered the bodies of three soldiers on May 27, nearly 50 days after the avalanche.

"Nature and magnitude of the calamity is suggestive of no probability of recovering any person alive," the military statement said.

Noting that 52 days had passed since the avalanche, the statement further said: "Notwithstanding the resolve of the troops employed on search operations, excavation work is taking time due to constraints imposed by terrain and weather."

The decision of the army to declare the 128 soldiers and 11 civilian employees buried under dozens of feet of snow as martyrs was also influenced by "socio-religious dimensions and implications, requirements to initiate the process of documentation, and reduction of the sufferings of the bereaved families", the statement said.

"From this deliberate exercise, it has been decided to declare the remaining brave soldiers as “shuhada”. This is being done with mixed feelings of pride, grief and above all unflinching resolve to continue all efforts to recover the bodies of shuhadas," the statement said.

The avalanche has raised questions in Pakistan about the troop deployment in the hazardous terrain.

Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in a standoff on Siachen, described as the world’s highest and coldest battlefield, since 1984.

The guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries have put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers of Jammu and Kashmir, and more troops have died on the glaciers due to the adverse weather than combat.

The Defence Secretaries of India and Pakistan will hold their next round of talks on the military standoff on Siachen in Islamabad during June 11-12.