Thousands flee border villages in J&K

Number of people flocking to temporary relief camps crosses 10,000

Thousands flee border villages in J&K

Pakistani troops continued to target Indian forward posts and civilian areas along the International Border (IB) in the Jammu region on Tuesday, forcing thousands of residents of border villages to abandon their houses and migrate to safer places.

A Border Security Force (BSF) official told Deccan Herald that Pakistani troops had resorted to heavy mortar shelling and firing on Monday night using long-range weapons, targeting dozens of Indian Border Out Posts and more than 70 border villages in the Kathua and Samba districts.

He said BSF troops retaliated effectively, resulting in exchanges that continued intermittently throughout the night. However, there was no report of death or injury to any civilian since Monday night.

With mortar and shells landing deep inside the Indian territory, thousands have been forced to migrate from the border areas for shelter in temporary relief camps in safer areas, eyewitnesses told Deccan Herald over the phone. Reports said the number has already crossed 10,000.

“Most villagers in Samba and Hiranagar sectors along the IB have left their houses fearing for life. The situation along has become grim as the Pakistani troops are resorting to heavy shelling,” said the eyewitnesses. “A war-like situation prevails on the borders, with the sound of explosions and firing shaking the people.”

In view of this continued shelling and firing, authorities have ordered closure of all schools in the border area from Tuesday for an indefinite period.

BSF Director General D K Pathak, who reviewed defence preparedness along the border in Jammu, said they would retaliate strongly if fired upon. “Peace is the best situation, but if Pakistan does not want peace, we will definitely respond,” he told reporters in Jammu. “We cannot go on taking bullets. Pakistan always fires first, and targets our civilian areas.”

Pathak refused to comment over the Pakistan defence minister's statement that they want to maintain peace along the border, but India was posturing tough.

Meanwhile, sources told Deccan Herald that after the Pakistani Rangers suffered seven fatalities in retaliatory firing over the past week, it has reportedly been replaced by the Pakistani Army in most of the posts that are continuously pounding BSF pickets and villages with 82-mm mortar and sophisticated weapons.

“In the latest shelling, the Pakistani side has used long-range weapons to target civilian areas, which was evident from the fact that the mortar shells were landing 4 km inside the Indian territory. The Pakistan Army has replaced the Rangers in most of the posts in the Sialkot sector opposite Samba and Hiranagar to target BSF posts and civilian areas. It is the Pakistan Army that possesses the long-range weapons used to fire mortar shells at the Indian villages,” they added.

The latest ceasefire violations come less than three months after the last major escalation that left 13 people dead and displaced 32,000 border residents between August and October last year.

Over 550 incidents of ceasefire violation by Pakistan occurred in 2014—the highest since the truce came into force in 2003. A total of 19 people, including five jawans, were killed and over 150 injured in these incidents last year.

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