India summons Pakistan envoy over civilian deaths in Kashmir
India summoned Pakistan's envoy in New Delhi Sunday to protest against the weekend killing of at least half a dozen civilians in border firings, hiking tensions ahead of talks between the nuclear-armed rivals.
Six civilians died on the weekend in troubled Indian Kashmir after firing and shelling by Pakistani troops from across the border, claimed Indian police. Another two civilians were killed in shelling by Indian soldiers into the Pakistani side of the disputed Himalayan region, according to a Pakistani official. "We are concerned about the ceasefire violations in the months of July and August," Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit told reporters outside the foreign ministry office in Delhi where he had been hauled in. "There have been close to 70 ceasefire violations from this side [Indian] of the LoC (Line of Control) and working boundary," he said.
India and Pakistan often accuse each other of violating a 2003 ceasefire agreement along their de facto border known as the Line of Control that divides Kashmir.
Firing and shelling between troops has occurred on an almost daily basis for the past week along the border, after an uptick in such incidents in recent months. Top security officials of the two countries are scheduled to meet in the Indian capital from August 23 in what Pakistan last week described as "ice breaking" talks. After months of stalemate and recriminations, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif spoke for nearly an hour while visiting Russia in July.
Kashmir has been divided between the two countries since the end of British rule but is claimed in full by both. The neigbours have fought two wars over control of the Muslimmajority territory.
Several rebel groups have for decades battled Indian forces deployed on the Indian side, seeking either independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan. The conflict has left tens of thousands, mostly civilians, dead. Indian and Pakistani troops traded heavy gunfire and mortar rounds for a seventh straight day Sunday along the highly militarised Line of Control dividing the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir between the two archrivals, officials said.
Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. Manish Mehta said Pakistani troops fired on Indian positions in Balakote and Poonch sectors. Indian police officer Danish Rana said six civilians had died in the Pakistani shelling over the last two days. At least 17 others were wounded. Pakistan's army said in a statement that two civilians had been killed and two others wounded in the fighting.