Kashmir: Nine civilians killed in India-Pakistan border firing

Image source, AP
Image caption,
The two sides blame each other - villagers are caught in the middle

India and Pakistan have accused each other of unprovoked firing along the disputed border in Kashmir in which at least nine civilians were killed.

Five civilians died after Pakistani troops fired shells into Indian-administered Kashmir, India said.

Pakistan said four civilians in Pakistan-administered Kashmir had been killed in firing by Indian troops.

A ceasefire agreed in 2003 remains in place, but the neighbours often accuse each other of violating it.

In August India cancelled talks with Pakistan after accusing it of interfering in its internal affairs.

Last month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his first speech at the UN, said he wanted peace talks with Pakistan but insisted it must create an "appropriate atmosphere".

The latest firing is being seen as one of the worst flare-ups since the 2003 ceasefire deal, the BBC's Andrew North in Delhi reports.

It happened as Kashmiris were marking the Muslim festival of Eid, with villages on either side of the de facto border reportedly hit by a combination of mortar, artillery and machine gun fire. There is no way of verifying the conflicting accounts of what happened.

Officials of India's Border Security Force said Pakistani soldiers fired guns and mortar shells at 10 of its border posts and some villages in the Arnia area in Jammu district over the weekend, leading to the deaths of civilians there. Thirty others, including women and children, were injured.

A Pakistani military statement said Indian troops had fired guns and mortar shells at five places in Sialkot along the disputed boundary, resulting in the deaths of four civilians, including two children and a woman.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Relatives mourn a man who was killed in the firing
Image source, AP
Image caption,
India and Pakistan have often accused each other of unprovoked firing along the disputed border

An Indian official told the AFP news agency that the firing from Pakistani troops began on Sunday night and it was "continuing intermittently".

Most of the casualties on the Indian side happened when shells landed near a bus stand and houses in Arnia.

"I have never seen such massive firing. Bombs were falling on houses," Vijay Kumar, one injured villager, told the NDTV news channel.

Officials said they were evacuating people from Arnia to underground bunkers and shelters.

"There is panic. We're trying to give them a sense of security and temporary shelters," Jammu's top official Mr Shantmanu told the Associated Press news agency.

The recent incidents along the border come more than a decade after the two countries agreed a tenuous ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border that divides Kashmir between them.

India has long accused Pakistan of sponsoring militants in the disputed region - although the violence has declined since the early 2000s.

Claimed by both countries in its entirety, Kashmir has been a flashpoint for more than 60 years. The South Asian rivals have fought two wars and a limited conflict over the region.

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