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Indian PM's bid for peace mountain

From CNN's Suhasini Haidar in New Delhi

• Timeline: Kashmir history
• In-depth: Where conflict rules
Kashmir and Jammu (India)

(CNN) -- India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh says it is time to convert the world's highest battlefield into a peace mountain.

For more than 20 years, India and Pakistan have maintained troops and battle positions in freezing cold temperatures on the Siachen glacier, located 18,000 to 22,000 feet (5,400-6,600 meters) above sea level.

Speaking to his soldiers on Sunday, Singh --the first Indian prime minister to visit the Siachen outpost -- said while India would not negotiate on changing the map, it was time to convert the hostile heights of Siachen into a "peace mountain."

Now, Singh says, an 18-month peace effort between the two countries could result in good news for hundreds of men who guard these heights, which have been the scene of some of the worst fighting between India and Pakistan.

"We are engaged in a peace process with Pakistan. We are trying to maintain peace between our two countries so that everyone can live happily here," said Singh.

Until a ceasefire in 2003, India and Pakistan frequently exchanged fire on the glacier, which means "Black Rose" in the local Balti language.

The glacier is the most prominent feature of the Saltoro mountain range, which lies at the extreme northwest of the Karakoram region.

Defense experts say that more soldiers die in Siachen every year from the altitude and from the cold, with temperatures that dip to -60 Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit) -- than they do from enemy fire.

The expense of bringing in supplies, feeding, and keeping soldiers warm on the 72-kilometer (46 mile) long glacier is astronomical. Both countries together spend more than a million dollars a day just to keep their positions.

Despite the cost, efforts to downsize have yielded little. In late May, talks between Indian and Pakistani defense officials to discuss demilitarizing Siachen were inconclusive.

Analysts say control of Siachen is also part of the bigger, long standing India-Pakistan dispute over control of Kashmir, which has led the two countries to war in the past.

The glacier is also strategically important as its control would enable India to watch the Karakoram Highway connecting Pakistan and China and to defend its Buddhist region of Ladakh.

Even so, many say there is hope for progress. They point to the opening of a bus route between Indian Kashmir and Pakistani Kashmir in April this year, which turned an embattled border post into a bridge named the bridge of peace.

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