South Asia

Anti-militant protests in Pakistan's Neelum valley

Athmuqam town
Image caption The Neelum Valley has been mostly peaceful since the 2003 ceasefire

Protests over renewed militant activity have been held in the Neelum Valley region of Pakistani-administered Kashmir, the BBC has learned.

Locals say that Pakistan-based militants are flocking to the area and crossing into Indian-administered Kashmir to launch attacks there.

They fear that retaliatory fire from the Indian side may threaten a 2003 ceasefire and life in the valley.

The Neelum Valley was a major staging-post for militants from 1990 to 2003.

It is a long, narrow strip of land, most of which lies within the firing range of soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir.

It was one of the worst-affected areas along the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the disputed region of Kashmir.

Its tricky mountain passes meant that it was an important transit route for militants crossing into Indian-administered Kashmir.

Throughout that period, retaliatory fire from the Indians killed hundreds of residents, destroyed homes, hospitals and schools and forced people to spend most of their daily lives in bunkers.

Cross-border tension

But as it is so remote information about the latest spate of protests in the Neelum valley has trickled out slowly.

An Indian army spokesman told the BBC in early September that attempts by militants to cross over had heightened tensions on the border.

Two incidents of cross-border firing left at least four Pakistani soldiers dead in the first week of September.

And locals in the valley also told the BBC's Zulfiqar Ali that there has been an increased militant presence.

During a congregation to mark the holy festival of Eid on 31 August, residents of the town of Athmuqam passed a resolution which declared that any attempt to disrupt peace in the area would be resisted by the people.

A week later, two large demonstrations were held in Athmuqam to protest against the influx of militants which it is argued has sparked border skirmishes between Pakistani and Indian forces.

On Tuesday, hundreds of school children held another protest march in the town, submitting a list of demands to officials at a military camp.

Locals told our correspondent that the language and dress of most of the militants coming to the area suggests that they are from the Punjab province of Pakistan.

The Indian government has also accused Pakistan of sending militants to Indian-administered Kashmir to attack its forces there. Pakistan denies this charge, and says that Indian Kashmir is facing an indigenous insurgency.

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