World Bulletin/News Desk
Five civilians were killed and thousands took refuge in camps in the disputed region of Kashmir on Wednesday after some of the most intense fighting between nuclear-armed neighbours Pakistan and India in a decade.
A total of nine Pakistani and eight Indian civilians have been killed since fighting erupted more than week ago in the mostly Muslim Himalayan region. Kashmir is claimed by both countries and has been a major focus of tension in South Asia.
Each side has accused the other of targeting civilians and unprovoked violations of a border truce that has largely held since 2003.
While exchanges of sporadic fire are common along the de facto border dividing the region, civilian deaths are unusual. Three Pakistani and two Indian civilians were killed on Wednesday.
A senior border security force official said Indian forces had retaliated to machine gun and mortar attacks on about 60 positions along a more than 200-km (125-mile) stretch of the border on Wednesday.
Some 18,000 Indian civilians have fled their homes in the lowlands around occupied Kashmir due to the fighting, and have taken refuge in schools and relief camps.
"We left our homes in the dead of night and are living here in this school in a wretched condition. We have no food. We want end of the firing so that we can return home."
Pakistani Major General Khan Tahir Javed Khan said the number of mortar rounds and bullets fired had surged in recent weeks.
"It is the most intense in decades," Khan said of the fighting. "My message to them would be please de-escalate."
POLITICS WEIGHS HEAVILY
The fighting comes at a time of changing power dynamics in South Asia, with Pakistan's army taking a more assertive role in politics and India's new nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi promising a more muscular foreign policy.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been weakened by opposition protests that started in August. He won the army's backing but in the process ceded space to the generals on some issues, including relations with India.
Modi is following through on a promise to take a harder line with Pakistan in its border disputes after being elected in May. Although Sharif came to Modi's inauguration, the Indian leader has since cancelled a round of talks with Pakistan, and in a further snub did not meet Sharif at a U.N. meeting in New York in September.
"This unrest is a logical consequence of worsening political relations between India and Pakistan," said Michael Kugelman, Senior Program Associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.Last Mod: 08 Ekim 2014, 14:06