Border Firing Sparks Fear, Villagers Flee

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SRINAGAR: Firing and shelling between Indian and Pakistani troops escalated Thursday night along their border in Jammu region forcing residents to flee to safer places, reports reaching here said today.

India on Wednesday had accused Pakistani troops of firing guns and mortars on at least 50 border posts overnight, calling it the most serious cease-fire violation between the nuclear-armed neighbors since truce was a announced in 2003.

On Thursday night, the shelling escalated once again resulting in the injuries to eight people. Reports said an intense artillery skirmish erupted in Akhnoor sector Thursday evening during which a mortar shell fired by Pakistani Rangers landed into a residential compound in Kanachak village. 

At least 250 people including senior citizens, women and children were shifted to the government high school in Rajpura from Gadkhal on the border in Akhnoor sector.

At least 100 civilians were being moved from the villages of Arnia and Ramgarh near the frontier, police said. 

Hundreds more were sheltering overnight in government camps away from any gunfire, which had injured 12 civilians in recent days, officials said. “These people usually go back to their homes in the day as the firing incidents mainly occur during the night,” they said.

Villagers are saying these shells are exploding close to their homes and in their agricultural fields.

“It is dangerous to live inside our homes or venture into the fields. Even cattle are falling prey to the shelling. We have no option but to move out to save our lives,” said a villager of Jasso Chak in the Ramgarh sector of Samba district.

Some villagers moved back to their homes after assurances by the district administration and leaders of the ruling National Conference. Just two days after their return, frequent mortar shelling forced them to again abandon their homes.

Situation is no different on the other side. Pakistan said Indian troops targeted 27 Pakistani posts near Sialkot in the last two days with machine guns and mortars. The Indians fired nearly 4,000 mortars and 59,000 machine gun rounds, and Pakistani troops responded, Pakistan’s military said. During the last two weeks, Indian troops have killed two Pakistani civilians and a soldier and wounded 26 other civilians, it said.

The attacks began Tuesday night after union home minister visited the region to review security, Border Security Force spokesman Vinod Yadav said. Indian troops returned fire, but one Indian guard was killed and six were injured by a shell fired at the Arnia post in the Jammu region.

Both India and Pakistan, however, have reported an increase in the number of cross-border attacks since the current Pakistani and Indian prime ministers held their first face-to-face meeting last month in New York and agreed on the need to reduce tensions. 

Army sources are saying that Pakistan has stepped up firing in order to provide cover to fresh groups of militants infiltrating into Kashmir. 

They say Pashto-speaking militants have been intercepted on the LoC this year after almost 12 years. The ensuing withdrawal of Nato forces in Afghanistan has always been looked at as the moment when cross-border violence against India would increase, a news report quoting defence sources said. Agencies

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