Indian Kashmir opens international airport
Srinagar, February 14, 2009
India opened the airport in troubled Kashmir for international traffic for the first time, as part of an effort to boost the Himalayan region's ailing tourism industry.
Sonia Gandhi, head of India's ruling Congress party, inaugurated the new airport, as well as state carrier Air India's first flight to Dubai from the Srinagar International Airport.
'The start of Dubai-Srinagar international flight will help people (of Kashmir), businessmen and promote tourism,' Gandhi said in her speech.
Security was tight in the new airport, which has opened just a little over a month after a new chief minister took office, promising to help heal a region hit by two decades of separatist rebellion against Indian rule that has killed thousands.
Air India Express, a discount subsidiary of the state carrier, will operate a weekly flight to Dubai initially, with more flights and other airlines added at a later date, said Aviation Minister Praful Patel.
Kashmir was once a top Asian tourism destination, popular among honeymooners, skiers, trekkers and anglers, and attracting about a million tourists a year until 1989, when simmering anger against New Delhi's rule burst into a violent rebellion.
Recently, visitors have started returning to the scenic Valley as violence declined significantly after India and Pakistan, who claim the region in full but rule it in parts, started a slow-moving peace process in 2004.
Last year, nearly 500,000 visitors travelled to the Valley to see its beautiful landscapes, tourism officials say.-Reuters