22 killed as Pak­istan, In­dia ex­change fire 7 In­dian sol­diers ‘killed in re­tal­ia­tory fire’

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ar­tillery fire and shelling from In­dia tar­geted sev­eral Pak­istani vil­lages and struck a pas­sen­ger bus near the di­vid­ing line in the dis­puted re­gion of Kash­mir yes­ter­day, killing 12 civil­ians wound­ing more than a dozen oth­ers, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary and of­fi­cials said. Hours later, Pak­istan’s mil­i­tary said three sol­diers, in­clud­ing an army cap­tain, were killed while re­spond­ing to the In­dian at­tack. It said seven In­dian sol­diers were also “killed in re­tal­ia­tory fire” but there was no con­fir­ma­tion on the ca­su­al­ties from In­dia.

The deadly vi­o­lence marks the latest es­ca­la­tion in the Himalayan re­gion of Kash­mir, which is divided be­tween the two nu­clear-armed neigh­bors and claimed by both in its en­tirety. Ac­cord­ing to Deputy Com­mis­sioner Wa­heed Khan, an ar­tillery shell hit a pas­sen­ger bus in the scenic Neelum Val­ley in the Pak­istani part of Kash­mir, killing 10 peo­ple - three died on the scene and seven later, at a hos­pi­tal. Another two civil­ians died when a mor­tar shell hit their house in the Nakyal sec­tor in Kotli dis­trict, said po­lice of­fi­cial Waseem Khan. The shelling sent res­i­dents flee­ing in panic, he said. At least 15 peo­ple were also wounded in the bus strike and else­where in yes­ter­day’s at­tacks.

Sar­dar Ma­sood Khan, the pres­i­dent of the Pak­istani-gov­erned part of Kash­mir, de­nounced “In­dia’s ag­gres­sion” in a state­ment and ap­pealed to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to take no­tice of In­dia’s cease-fire vi­o­la­tions in Kash­mir. He also urged the United Na­tions Mil­i­tary Ob­server Group for In­dia and Pak­istan, or UNMOGIP, to “in­ves­ti­gate these in­ci­dents and as­sign re­spon­si­bil­ity for these vi­o­la­tions of cease­fire.” Ear­lier, an army state­ment said Pak­istani troops were fir­ing back on In­dian mil­i­tary po­si­tions. The state­ment also said that an am­bu­lance, which had rushed the scene of the at­tack, was fired upon by In­dia.

Pak­istani se­cu­rity of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day’s fire forced Pak­istani vil­lagers with their fam­i­lies to take to field bunkers, built years ago for such at­tacks. They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the at­tacks with re­porters. In In­dia, army spokesman Col Nitin Joshi said an in­tense ex­change of fire was un­der­way be­tween the two sides. Yes­ter­day’s es­ca­la­tion came a day after In­dian army spokesman Col Ra­jesh Kalia said the at­tack­ers mu­ti­lated the body of one sol­dier in the Machil sec­tor in In­dian-con­trolled Kash­mir. He did not spec­ify if the at­tack was car­ried out by Pak­istani sol­diers or rebels fight­ing since 1989 against In­dian rule in the re­gion.

Re­ports of the sol­dier’s mu­ti­la­tion have in­flamed sen­ti­ments, which likely con­trib­uted to the re­tal­ia­tory ex­changes be­tween Pak­istan and In­dia. “Ret­ri­bu­tion will be heavy for this cowardly act,” Col Ra­jesh Kalia, another In­dian army spokesman, said fol­low­ing Tues­day’s at­tack. In the past, the In­dian mil­i­tary has blamed a com­bi­na­tion of the Pak­istani army’s bor­der ac­tion team and mil­i­tants for car­ry­ing out op­er­a­tions along the Line of Con­trol, which sep­a­rates the Pak­istan- and In­dia-con­trolled parts of Kash­mir.

Deadly ex­changes of fire in the dis­puted Kash­mir have in­ten­si­fied in re­cent weeks. Ten­sions have es­ca­lated since mil­i­tants attacked an In­dian army base there in Septem­ber. In­dia said the mil­i­tants were sup­ported by Pak­istan, charges de­nied by Is­lam­abad. Both sides ac­cuse the other of ini­ti­at­ing the fir­ing along the volatile boundary. So far this week, at least 18 peo­ple, civil­ians and sol­diers, have been killed on both sides. Last week, Pak­istani army claimed to have shot down a small In­dian drone in Kash­mir, a day after the Pak­istani navy claimed it had in­ter­cepted In­dian sub­marines en­ter­ing the coun­try’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters in the Ara­bian Sea. Two of the three wars be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan since 1947 have been fought over their com­pet­ing claims to Kash­mir. —AP

SRI­NA­GAR: In­dian para­mil­i­tary trooper stands guard on the shores of Dal Lake on a cold winter’s day in Sri­na­gar yes­ter­day. The cold wave fur­ther tight­ened its grip in Jammu and Kash­mir with most places in the state record­ing sub-zero tem­per­a­tures. —AFP

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