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Thousands flee amid Kashmir clashes

Thousands of villagers in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir have fled their homes because of artillery battles between Indian and Pakistani soldiers along their highly militarised border.

Authorities have evacuated more than 6,000 people to relief camps nearly a week after the shelling broke out, a senior official in Indian Kashmir said. Some 4,000 other people have fled their homes and are staying with relatives, he added.

At least a dozen people have been killed in the border skirmishes.

No shelling was reported on Tuesday but tensions remain high in Kashmir. The Himalayan region is claimed by both India and Pakistan and is divided between them.

Indian officials have set up about 20 relief camps after many villagers fled their homes without their belongings.

Many residents said they fled their homes as mortar fire began landing in border villages.

"We were very frightened as bullets and shells were raining from all sides," said Kamal Singh, a construction worker. "We somehow managed to flee to a safer place," he said. Mr Singh said he and his family fled from Baniglad village and have been staying at a government-run relief shelter for four days.

Paramilitary officials said the shelling went on until midnight at numerous places along the border. "About two dozen Indian forward border posts were under attack," said D Parekh, of the Border Security Force.

While New Delhi and Islamabad each blame the other for starting the violence, border residents said both are responsible.

"The two governments want to settle their scores and we are the ones who always suffer," said Raj Chowdhry, a resident of Bobyia village, speaking from a relief camp.

Mr Chowdhry said he was worried about his elderly parents who stayed behind. "My parents couldn't leave as they're too old. I don't know if they're all right," he said.

Some villagers refused to move.

"What's the point of leaving the village? This has been going on for decades. I've gotten used to it," said Bishen Das, an 80-year old farmer who stayed in Baniglad, a village near an Indian border post that came under intense shelling.

"By staying here I can at least attend to the hapless cattle caught in a situation where even humans don't know what to do," Mr Das said.

India says Pakistani troops committed more than 550 ceasefire violations in 2014, the most since the two nations signed an accord in 2003.

While minor skirmishes are common, an October ceasefire violation left nine civilians dead in Pakistan and nine in India.

India accuses Pakistan of sending militants into the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir under the cover of the artillery, a charge Pakistan denies. Islamabad says it only gives the militants moral and diplomatic support.


From Belfast Telegraph