Kashmir: Thousands flee border villages along Line of Control

Fear, panic grips residents in the heavily militarised zone on both sides of the de facto Kashmir border.

    Authorities said an estimated 20,000 people left their homes in the past week when Indian artillery spread panic in the Neelum Valley on the Pakistan side of the LoC [Sajjad Qayyum/AFP]
    Authorities said an estimated 20,000 people left their homes in the past week when Indian artillery spread panic in the Neelum Valley on the Pakistan side of the LoC [Sajjad Qayyum/AFP]

    Thousands of villagers living along the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) dividing Pakistan- and Indian-administered Kashmir have migrated to safer places in fear of artillery fire exchanges across the border.

    Earlier this month, Pakistan accused India of using cluster munitions that killed a four-year-old boy and a woman.

    Tensions spiked earlier this week when the Indian government revoked the special status of Indian-administered Kashmir in its constitution.

    A presidential decree issued on Monday revoked Article 370 of India's constitution, which guaranteed special rights to the Muslim-majority state, including the right to its own constitution and autonomy to make laws on all matters, except defence, communications and foreign affairs. 

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    Authorities said an estimated 20,000 people left their homes over the past week when Indian artillery spread panic in the Neelum Valley on the Pakistan side of the LoC.

    In Chakothi, a town near the LoC, people said most did not have the resources to build bunkers or move to safer places.

    Muhammad Mukhtar, a 38-year-old vet, told Al Jazeera how scared the residents were due to the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir.

    "There is fear in the area and residents are preparing to leave their homes if a cross-border exchange of fire takes place. The LoC is just three kilometres from where we are," said Mukhtar.

    Muhammad Sheraz, 30, is resident of Khalana Kalan village at the LoC. He said residents of the village are staying indoors due to fear of shelling and shooting across the LoC.

    "We don't have the money to build bunkers or to shift our children elsewhere," Muhammad Lateef, 45, said.

    Muhammad Khalid, a resident of Durian village, about 90km north of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said almost one-fifth of the residents of areas where there was an exchange of fire on July 30 have moved.

    "Residents become frightened when they hear any sound of fire around the LoC," said Muhammad Shahzad, a 40-year-old paramedic residing in Lowat village in upper Neelum Valley.

    The Kashmir conflict has separated families for years. Al Jazeera's Osama bin Javaid, reporting from a refugee camp in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said more than 35,000 people were living in the camp; almost everyone has a relative across the border.

    "It's been three days since we heard from my sister and her family across the border," said Bibi Safina, a displaced Kashmiri on Pakistan's side of the LoC.

    "We don't know anything. Even the internet has been shut down."

    With additional reporting by Roshan Mughal in Pakistan-administered Kashmir 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies