Thousands flee intensifying India-Pakistan clashes -UPDATED

As intense shelling continues across the working boundary between Indian and Pakistani border forces in the divided Kashmir, tens of thousands of villagers have been forced to flee their homes to safe-shelters set up by administrations of both countries. 

Thousands flee intensifying India-Pakistan clashes -UPDATED

World Bulletin/News Desk

Thousands of Indians have fled from their homes as fighting between India and Pakistan spread along a 200-km (124 mile) stretch of the border in the disputed region of Kashmir.

Tension between the nuclear-armed rivals has risen since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called off peace talks in August and clashes along stretches of their border have been erupting intermittently since October.

At least 10 Indian and Pakistani soldiers and civilians have been killed in fighting over the past week.

About 6,000 civilians in Indian-held Kashmir fled from their homes late on Monday as fighting moved to civilian areas, said Shantmanu, the divisional commissioner of Jammu region. About 4,000 left after fighting began last week.

"We had a narrow escape and there is a war-like situation," Sham Kumar, 54, from Sherpur village told Reuters. "Pakistani troops are using long-range weapons. It is the first time we have seen such intense shelling."

The violence comes days before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to visit India. President Barack Obama is also due to visit India later this month.

The United States has for years been trying to push the South Asian rivals to build better relations. Mistrust between India and Pakistan is a factor behind conflict in various parts of the region including Afghanistan.

Kumar said he left his village after a shell landed in a school about 3.5 km (2 miles) from the border.

“We are living the lives of refugees and we see no hope. Only more and more firing on our houses, field, cowsheds.”

"More than 10,000 villagers from border areas have been shifted to safer places and the number is expected to increase," said Shantmanu, the Divisional Commissioner of Jammu region.

“50 villages and many border posts were targeted in Kathua up to 2300 hours on Monday and the shelling resumed around 0400 hours today,” said Deputy Commissioner of Kathua, in Indian-held Kashmir, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary. Choudary also said that the mortar shells from Pakistan landed about four kilometres inside the Indian territory.

Hundreds of villages lie along the border, most of them dependent on agriculture and livestock for the livelihood of their populations. Villagers said that the heavy cross border shelling not only affected their harvesting last year but also has littered the fields with unexploded shells while ruining their houses with mortar shells.

“20 houses in our village have been destroyed and our farms are littered with shells, scores of them unexploded,” Kamesh Singh, 37, a resident of Mangu Chak village along the Indo-Pak Working Boundary told the AA. “Our children are shivering in the cold and we can't do anything.”

Singh said that the shelling along the border only seemed to escalate and they saw no hope of returning to their villages any time soon.

Thousands of villagers lie huddled in dozens of temporary makeshift shelters on the Indian side that the Indian government has set up.

Indian and Pakistani forces again exchanged gunfire and mortar bombs across parts of their border on Tuesday, an Indian Border Security Force official said.

While the Indian Home Minister said that they will raise the costs for Pakistan, the Pakistani defense minister, Khawaja Asif, told the press that India wanted to keep Pakistan busy in a 'low-intensity' war and that "Pakistan would speak to India in the language they understand."

Until October, violations of a ceasefire set in 2003 were only occasion but there has since been several rounds of clashes between the two countries.

The new spate of ceasefire violations come two months after the last major escalation that displaced 32,000 border residents in September 2014.

Both India and Pakistan have been blaming each other for violating the ceasefire and in the absence of diplomatic talks, both countries have been bullish in their statements.

Since October 6, when firing along the border became a regular occurrence, more than 23 civilians have been killed on both sides, while more than a hundred have been wounded. Thousands have fled their villages leaving behind their homes, cattle and possession to safe shelters set up by the district administration.

The border in Kathua and Samba flared up in the present spell of violence on New Year's eve with Indian and Pakistani forces using heavy mortar fire against each other.

On Jan. 2, a 45-year old woman was killed and 13 others were injured in Samba region on the Indian side while a 13-year old Pakistani girl was killed in the ceasefire violations.

On Dec. 31, two Indian Border Security Forces Jawans and two Pakistani Rangers were killed in the border firing.

Kashmir, a Muslim-majority Himalayan region, is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full.

The two countries have fought three wars – in 1948, 1965 and 1971 – since they were partitioned in 1947, two of which were fought over Kashmir.

Since 1989, Kashmiri resistance groups in Indian-held Kashmir have been fighting against Indian rule for independence, or for unification with neighboring Pakistan.

More than 70,000 people have reportedly been killed in the conflict so far.

Last Mod: 06 Ocak 2015, 17:00
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