Kash­mir vil­lagers flee amid Pak­istan-In­dia gun­fire


Pak­istan and In­dia traded heavy gun­fire on Fri­day, killing one per­son and forc­ing vil­lagers in di­vided Kash­mir to flee to safety even as the Pak­istani pres­i­dent re­newed his of­fer of talks with In­dia to re­solve the is­sue of the dis­puted re­gion.

A Pak­istani woman was killed and her two daugh­ters and hus­band were wounded when an In­dian mor­tar struck their home in the Neza­pir sec­tor of the di­vided re­gion, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary said.

The two nu­clear-armed archri­vals have a history of un­easy re­la­tions and regularly ex­change fire over the dis­puted bound­ary, the latest com­ing as Pak­istan cel­e­brated In­de­pen­dence Day.

Pak­istan won in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain on Aug. 14, 1947, and marks the date each year with ral­lies and other cel­e­bra­tions.

In a tele­vised speech on Fri­day, Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Mam­noon Hus­sain said his na­tion be­lieves in “peace­ful co-ex­is­tence” with In­dia, though it would not com­prise if its de­fense and se­cu­rity came un­der threat.

“We want to re­solve all out­stand­ing is­sues, in­clud­ing Kash­mir, with In­dia,” he told a gath­er­ing of stu­dents, gov­ern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials in the cap­i­tal, Is­lam­abad.

Se­cu­rity was tight and troops guarded the Con­ven­tion Cen­ter where Hus­sain, along with Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif, hoisted the na­tional flag.

Since 1947, Pak­istan and In­dia have fought two of their three wars over Kash­mir, which is claimed by both coun­tries. The re­gion is di­vided into sec­tors and there is a Line of Con­trol that sep­a­rates Pak­istan- con­trolled Kash­mir from In­dian-held Kash­mir.

There was no i mme­di­ate re­sponse from New Delhi on Hus­sain’s of­fer or the re­port of Pak­istani ca­su­al­ties in the latest ex­change.

On Thurs­day, Is­lam­abad ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion from In­dia for a bi­lat­eral se­cu­rity meet­ing on Aug. 23. It was un­clear if the Kash­mir is­sue would be brought up at that meet­ing.

Ear­lier Fri­day, the Pak­istani mil­i­tary said “un­pro­voked shoot­ing” came from the In­dian-held side of Kash­mir, from Neza­pir and Rawalakot sec­tors, and that Pak­istani forces were re­spond­ing.

Mo­ham­mad An­sar, a lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cial in Pak­istan’s part of Kash­mir said rock­ets and mor­tars fired by In­dian were land­ing near vil­lages in the two sec­tors since the morn­ing hours and that ter­ri­fied vil­lagers were flee­ing to safer places.

How­ever, In­dian army spokesman Lt. Col. Man­ish Me­hta blamed Pak­istan, say­ing the Pak­ista­nis have been fir­ing mor­tars, grenades and ma­chine-guns at In­dian po­si­tions in the Poonch sec­tor “in­ter­mit­tently for the last five days.”

“We’ve given them a be­fit­ting re­ply,” he said, de­nounc­ing what he called “un­pro­voked, ceasefire vi­o­la­tions” by Pak­istan.

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