updated 10/9/2005 10:47:14 PM ET 2005-10-10T02:47:14

The newly reopened “Peace Bridge” linking the Indian and Pakistani portions of disputed Kashmir nearly collapsed during the South Asia earthquake, a blow to a symbol of the recent thawing of decades of tensions, officials said Sunday.

Damage to the span will disrupt bus service that was restored after a nearly 60-year lull between Srinagar, summer capital of India’s Jammu-Kashmir state, and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, said an Indian army spokesman, Col. J.S. Juneja.

“Two piers of the Peace Bridge have been damaged on the Pakistani side and has sunk there. It is now unoperational,” he said. “I would assume that even crossing the bridge by foot would be hazardous.”

The white-colored metal bridge underwent repairs this year to fix damage sustained in the 1947-48 war between the two neighbors shortly after the new nation of Pakistan was carved out of the former British India.

Icon of peace advances
Closed since that war, the reopened bridge became an icon of the advances in recent peace initiatives by India and Pakistan that have significantly reduced tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals, which have fought three wars, including two over Kashmir.

The 1947-48 war ended with the Himalayan territory divided, separating thousands of families on both sides of a cease-fire line that became a de facto border.

Many families had tearful reunions when the 220-foot bridge reopened in April with the launch of bus runs once every two weeks between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.

But the buses had not been driving over the weak structure. Passengers disembarked at each end and walked across, boarding another bus to complete their trips.

Juneja said there was very little possibility the bus service could use the route on its next scheduled run Oct. 20.

During British colonial rule, the 100-mile Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway was a major trade passage for the Kashmir Valley around Srinagar — bringing in oil, salt and other key supplies from Muzaffarabad and linking tens of thousands of families.

The narrow road climbs up the mountains on the Pakistani side until it joins the Jhellum River. It winds along the riverside for 45 miles until it reaches Muzaffarabad.

Juneja said the highway has been blocked at many places by landslides triggered by the quake. “Things don’t look too good,” he said.

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