NINE civilians were killed and at least 25 wounded yesterday in fighting along a stretch of the disputed border between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region, the heaviest toll since India called off a round of peace talks last month.
The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since they became independent in 1947.
They have fought three wars and came close to a fourth in 2001 and there have been regular clashes along the de facto border, known as the Line of Control (LoC), in the area.
Pakistani forces shelled Arnia, a town in Indian-controlled Kashmir about two miles from the border in the early hours of yesterday, killing five and wounding at least two dozen civilians, according to Rakesh Kumar, an inspector general of the Indian border security forces.
Authorities in Pakistan said Pakistani Rangers had effectively responded to Indian fire, claiming that India’s Border Security Forces killed four Pakistani civilians, including two children and a woman.
On the Indian side, officials were evacuating tens of thousands of people from Arnia and nearby villages to underground bunkers and government shelters.
A man said he was sleeping on the lawn outside his home on the outskirts of Arnia when a mortar shell landed and exploded on a nearby house, killing his neighbour and wounding five other people.
“There is panic,” said Jammu’s top administrator, Shantmanu, who goes by one name. “We’re trying to give them a sense of security and temporary shelters.”
The attacks coincided with the Eid al-Adha festival, celebrated by Muslims in both countries.
Another Indian officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Brijesh Panday, said the army later shot dead three Pakistani-based militants trying to cross into India further along the militarized LoC.
Muslim separatists have been fighting Indian forces in India’s part of Kashmir since 1989.
Pakistan rejects Indian accusations that it trains and arms the rebels in the part of Kashmir it controls and sends them to the Indian side.
The latest round of mortar shelling and gunfire began on Friday, when Pakistan’s army said it responded to “unprovoked firing” from the Indian side.
Indian defence minister Arun Jaitley said the army would retaliate to the latest violence.
“Let everybody be assured that our armed forces, our paramilitary forces are fully ready and they are responding to each of these provocations,” he said.
Pakistan’s army separately attacked ten Indian army posts along the LoC, according to Indian army officials in Indian Kashmir. Gunfire continued between the two sides in those areas yesterday, they said.
India’s prime minister Narendra Modi surprised many observers by inviting Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in May.
But relations have soured since Mr Modi called off the peace talks.