Islamabad: An avalanche engulfed a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near the Indian border on Saturday, burying 124 soldiers and 11 civilians, with no sign of survivors 17 hours later, the military said. The soldiers belong to the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion stationed near Skardu in Pakistani Kashmir, some 4,500 meters above the sea level.

The more than 20-metre high avalanche occurred around 6.00 a.m., as reported. The army had initially said 117 soldiers were buried. Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas told the official a channel that  weather condition forecast by the Met department on Sunday and Monday will help the rescue work. Sniffing dogs, helicopters and troops were deployed in the operation, the Inter-Services Public Relations, the army's media department, said in a statement.

However, the chance of survival of those still buried appears slim as the minimum temperature in the area is minus 50 degrees Celsius. Media reports said dozens of bodies were recovered on Saturday. Heavy snowfall was expected again in the area on Tuesday.

TAKEN BY SURPRISE

Helicopters were deployed in a rescue operation. Troops used sniffer dogs to comb the area, said the military. Heavy engineering equipment was flown to the site from the garrison city of Rawalpindi, near the capital Islamabad.

The army listed the names of the missing soldiers and civilians on its public relations website. The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64 year history, setting foreign and security policy even when civilian governments are in power, as is the case now. Siachen is in the northern part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The no-man's-land of Siachen is 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level.

Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire. 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.`

Siachen has been described as the world's highest battlefield. Indian and Pakistani troops have fought at altitudes of over 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius. Between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.

A tentative peace process is under way, with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday, the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005.

(JPN/Agencies)