Fear grips Jammu villages after night of shelling

Residents say they haven’t seen such fierce firing in 10 years

JAMMU: More than 40,000 people living in villages close to the International Border in the Jammu region are tense with fear after a night of shelling by Pakistan Rangers at 25 locations. They said on Saturday they haven’t seen such fierce firing in 10 years.

The incident comes just weeks after the prime ministers of the two countries pledged to restore calm along the Line of Control (LoC), the heavily militarised de facto border in Kashmir, at a meeting in New York.

A deadly flare-up along the LoC in January stalled peace talks that had only just resumed following a three-year hiatus sparked by the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people.

Fresh violence erupted on the LoC after five Indian soldiers were killed in a raid in August.

Delhi blamed that ambush on the Pakistan army, but Islamabad denied the claims and has repeatedly called for restraint and dialogue.

“There has been no firing since this (Saturday) morning. But Pakistan Rangers resorted to unprovoked firing at 25 places on the international border during the night,” a senior Border Security Force official said.

“We have also killed an intruder during the night in Suchetgarh sector of the border,” a senior BSF official said.

In Jammu district, people living in Pargwal area, which is situated 40 kilometres from here, on the banks of the Chenab river, are worried they might have to leave their homes and villages for safety reasons.

Worried and tense with fear, they did not sleep through Saturday night as shells exploded in nearby areas.

The last time people living in this area left their homes was during the 1971 and 1965 wars between India and Pakistan.

Some residents of Najwal, Markoola, Jaman Bela, Maljodha, Matkoola and Nikkowal in the larger Pargwal area fear the worse is till to come.

“We haven’t seen such shelling in a decade. Smoke covered our village for hours yesterday because of Pakistan shelling,” said Surjeet, 39, a resident of Nikkowal village.

“Schools are now closed in the village and we fear the time for migration has already come,” he said.

In the larger Pargwal area, there are at least half a dozen villages with a population of over 40,000. Residents have been restricting children and even cattle from venturing out for the last five days.

“Working in the fields has become impossible because of the shelling by Pakistan Rangers”, said another villager living close to the International Border.

India and Pakistan signed a historic bilateral ceasefire agreement in November 2003. As guns of the two armies and paramilitary forces guarding the Line of Control (LoC) and the International Border fell silent following the ceasefire agreement, a modicum of peace and normalcy had returned to the lives of thousands of people living close to the borders in divided Kashmir region.

After ten years, this luxury of peace for these people appears to be withering. Since the beginning of this year, Pakistan troops have violated the ceasefire around 150 times in Jammu and Kashmir, and have done so at least 130 times in the Jammu region alone. Two women and four children were injured in Pakistan shelling in these areas earlier this week.

Some villages in Pargwal area are situated barely 800 metres from the International Border, while others are less than a kilometre way from the border. Vehicular traffic on roads close to Pargwal has also remained suspended fearing a mishap because of shelling from across the border.

The BSF officials also claimed foiling an infiltration bid in Samba district and said an intruder was killed. “There was movement of suspected persons along the International Border in Kulian-Suchetpur Border outposts in Samba district. When the alert BSF personnel challenged them, they came under heavy fire and during the exchange an intruder was killed,” said Singh.

On Thursday, five people including three children were wounded after a shell fired by Pakistani Rangers landed in premises of a residential house.

Home Minister Shushil Kumar Shinde is visiting the restive region on Tuesday. He is likely to review security situation along border and line-of-control (LoC) in wake of growing cease-fire violations.

The Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said Friday that New Delhi should strongly take up repeated cease- fire violations on line-of-control (LoC) with Islamabad as according to him it was getting “more serious.”

Skirmishes between troops posted on LoC have been going on almost at daily basis since Aug. 6. Both sides have suffered troop as well as civilian casualties during the standoff on the 720-km- long LoC. Agencies

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