Tens of thousands flee Kashmir clashes

At least 14 civilians dead in two days of fighting between India and Pakistan across border in disputed Kashmir region.

    Indian and Pakistani troops have fired bullets and mortar shells across the border between India- and Pakistan-administered Kashmir for the second day, forcing tens of thousands of villagers from their homes, officials have said.

    Military officials in both countries said troops exchanged fire for several hours overnight on Tuesday, killing three Pakistanis and two Indian civilians. 

    Exchanges on Monday left nine civilians dead, with both sides accusing the other of provoking the incidents.

    "The entire belt of villages and clusters of homes alongside the border is affected, and thousands of people are leaving their homes for safe places," Pakistani police officer Shams Uddin said.

    On the Indian side, officials helped more than 20,000 residents of Arnia and thousands from other villages to evacuate on Monday.

    By Tuesday morning, more than 10,000 people had signed in at Indian government shelters, according to regional administrator Shantmanu, who goes by one name.

    Thousands more were staying with relatives or friends, he said.

    Indian and Pakistani TV showed images of homes destroyed by mortars and pockmarked by bullets.

    Ceasefire violations 

    The ongoing violence is one of the worst violations of a 2003 ceasefire between India and Pakistan.

    While minor skirmishes have been somewhat common over the years, many were shocked that this week's fighting fell over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and left civilian casualties.

    "They have turned our festivity into wailing," said Fazal Hussain, a resident of the Pakistani village of Harpal. "We are burying our relatives, rushing the injured to the hospital instead of celebrating Eid."

    Pakistani police officer Mohammad Anwar said Indian mortar shells slammed into houses and fields, killing the owner of a house in Bhagiari village and injuring six others there.

    "One shell fell on the roof of my cousin's house, pierced through to the ground and exploded," said Latif Shaikh, the victim's relative.

    "We had to run for safety in the dark and somehow managed to get behind the mosque in the village."

    The violence occurred along parts of a 200km border between Pakistan's Punjab province and the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. Pakistan also controls part of Kashmir further north, but no violence was reported there overnight.

    The two countries have fought two wars since 1947 over their competing claims to the Himalayan region.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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