Hundreds flee homes in deadly Indian-Pakistan border firing

Hundreds flee homes in deadly Indian-Pakistan border firing
Kashmiri residents and Indian police clash in Srinagar on October 6, 2014.

SRINAGAR, India - Hundreds of villagers have fled their homes in the remote Kashmir region as Indian and Pakistani forces kept up Tuesday their cross-border firing that has left nine people dead so far, officials said.

Firing across the border in recent days has stoked tensions and left nine people dead on Monday alone, the highest civilian toll in a single day in more than a decade in the troubled region.

Overnight, forces again traded heavy mortar fire, leaving seven people injured on the Indian Kashmir side, as villagers fled to shelters to escape the firing, a top local official said.

"We had 1500 people in safe shelters during the night away from their homes along the border," said Shantmanu, a top administrator of the Indian Kashmir region, who uses only one name.

"It is a voluntary thing. Otherwise the entire border population is vulnerable," he told AFP, adding that villagers were returning to check on their homes in the morning.

India and Pakistan have accused each other of provoking the firing that began Sunday night and fanned tensions between the nuclear-armed nations that have fought two wars over the Muslim-majority region.

Pakistnai officials Tuesday said Islamabad had lodged a strong protest with United Nations Military Observers Group for what it said was "unprovoked firing" by Indian troops.

Divided region 

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but both lay claim to the scenic Himalayan region, with regular clashes along their disputed border known as the Line of Control (LoC).

The firings in recent days have occurred along the LoC as well as their internationally recognised border further south.

"Seven more civilians were injured last (Monday) night in intermittent small arms firing in the Arnia area," top Indian Kashmir police officer Shakeel Beig said.

National home Minister Rajnath Singh, whose government stormed to power at May elections, warned that India would "not tolerate such acts of border violations by Pakistan".

"Ceasefire violation must stop. Pakistan must realise that a decisive government has come to power, which will not take such instances lying down," Singh said in an interview with the Hindustan Times daily published Tuesday.

India has an estimated 500,000 troops deployed in its part of Kashmir.

India called off peace talks last month over Kashmir after Pakistan consulted with Indian Kashmiri separatists.

Since 1989, fighting between Indian forces and rebels seeking independence or merger of the territory with Pakistan has killed tens of thousands, mostly civilians.

Violence has fallen in the region since 2004 when the countries began a peace process a year after signing a ceasefire agreement that has largely held.

But officials have said the civilian death toll of nine on Monday was the worst in a single day since 2003.

On the Indian side, firing from across the border killed five villagers and left 30 injured. A Pakistani military statement said four civilians, including two children, were killed on its side, while 26 were injured.

The latest exchange of fire comes after a brief period of cooperation in the disputed region between the two foes.

On August 8, Pakistan freed an Indian soldier who was captured after he was swept into the Pakistani zone of Kashmir when his patrol boat capsized.

However on August 11 both countries again exchanged accusations of cross-border firing while on August 23, Pakistan accused Indian border forces of killing two civilians in an unprovoked firing.

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