Srinagar: Two civilians were killed and three others wounded, one of them critically, in the Pakistani firing along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district on Saturday.
As the Indian troops responded to the latest ceasefire violation “strongly and effectively”, the exchange of fire eight civilians including five women are reported to have been injured in PoK. The officials in Jammu and Rajouri said that the Pakistani firing involving use of 82 mm and 120 mm mortar shells besides small arms was underway causing havoc in 14 villages in Rajouri’s Nowshera and Manjakot sectors.
Rajouri’s DC Shahid Iqbal Choudhary told this newspaper over the phone that 87 schools with an enrollment of 4,457 students falling in close proximity to the LoC have been closed till further orders in view of the skirmishes. Some schools in neighbouring Poonch district too have been shut as a precautionary measure, reports received here said.
The firing by the Pakistani troops which began at 7.15 am on Saturday has also damaged several residential houses and other properties in Jhanger, Bhawani and Laam areas of Nowshera sector besides leaving livestock dead or injured. Choudhary said, “Firing is going on. The critically injured civilian has been referred to a Jammu hospital for advanced treatment.” He also said that in all eight villages in Nowshera sector and six in neighbouring Manjakot sector have been affected in the firing from across the LoC.
He said that more than 150 border dwellers had shifted to safer locations following an earlier round of firing along the de facto border but others who may want to move out could not do it because the road leading to these villages is also in the line of fire. “There are already more than 150 people in the camps but we can’t evacuate others because the approach road is also in the line of fire. It would be risky to take them out of their dwellings while heavy firing is going on,” Choudhary said.
The police officials said that a mortar shell landed in a private house in Jhanger village soon after the Pakistani troops in their latest violation of November 2003 ceasefire started targeting the Indian forwards posts and civilians areas on Saturday morning. This resulted in instant death of two persons and injuries to others. “The Pakistani troops besides small arms used 82mm and 120mm mortars in Baba Khori and others areas along the LoC,” said a police officer. The Army and police sources said that the Indian troops responded “effectively” using the same calibre weapons. Confirming it, Jammu-based defence spokesman Lt. Col. Manish Mehta said, “The own forces are retaliating to the unprovoked Pakistan firing strongly and effectively”. He added, “The Pakistani troops initiated indiscriminate firing of small arms, automatic weapons, 82 mm and 120 mm mortars from 7.15 am”.
Following the renewed skirmishes, the authorities have ordered immediate closure of all the educational institutions falling within two kilometres from the de facto border in Rajouri district. Choudhary said that in the zero to five kilometre range from the LoC in Nowshera as many as 51 schools have been closed. “Besides, 36 schools located in Dandesar, Doongi and Manjakote will also remain closed for next three days.” He informed that during the ceasefire violation, at least, two schools were damaged in Jhangar area of Nowshera on Saturday while a mortar shell hit Middle School Thathiali in Manjakote area. He said, “The decision to close the schools in the area has been taken to ensure safety of the students and the staff”.
The officials in Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK, said that eight civilians including five women were injured in the Indian firing in Khuiratta and Charhoi sectors of Kotli district and Samahni sector of neighbouring Bhimber district. They added that the casualties could rise as shelling was continuing in some areas.
Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement alleged that the Indian firing was “unprovoked” and said that the Pakistani troops are “befittingly” responding to it. Chaudhary Zulqarnain Sarfaraz, the SSP of Kotli, said that the Indian troops resumed shelling and targeting civilian populations at 7am (PST) “without any provocation”. He was quoted by Dawn newspaper as saying, “The shelling had been intense and indiscriminate for about one and a half hours, but it has stopped now.” However, Chaudhary Guftaar Hussain, the DC of Bhimber district said that the firing and shelling was going on in Samahni sector.
On Wednesday night, a 35-year-old woman Akhtar Bi was killed and her husband Muhammad Hanief, 40, was critically injured in the Pakistani firing. About forty farm animals were also killed and 27 residential houses and a school were damaged in the firing and shelling from across the LoC in Laam area of Nowshera sector.
Next day, Pakistani authorities reported the death of a man and injuries to two other civilians including a woman in the Indian firing and shelling in PoK. Indian Deputy High Commissioner J.P. Singh was summoned to the Foreign Office in Islamabad over what the Pakistani authorities alleged were fresh ceasefire violations on the LoC and “deliberate targeting of civilians” by the Indian troops which it said was “condemnable and contrary to human dignity and international human rights and humanitarian laws”. The Pakistani authorities have said that the areas on their side of the LoC affected by firing fall in Tandar, Subzkot, Khuiratta, Baroh, Bagsar and Khanjar sectors.
Following the escalation, many border dwellers started leaving their homes and relocate to safer locations mainly in and around Nowshera town. In Rajouri district, the authorities ordered closure of all schools and other educational institutions falling within the two kilometre range from the LoC as a precautionary measure. Also the schools where relief camps for the displaced border dwellers have been set up remained closed on the second consecutive day on Saturday. The district administration had earlier alerted emergency services to deal the situation in view of the firing and resultant heightening tensions. Also, the authorities had, in the wake of Wednesday’s firing, sounded alert in several villages falling close to the LoC including Pukherni, Qila Darhal, Sarya, Khamba, Laam and Jhangar.
On Friday, a BSF man suffered minor injury when Pakistani Rangers violated the ceasefire along International Border (called working boundary by Pakistan). The government had in April informed Rajya Sabha that Pakistani security forces had violated the ceasefire 268 times in the last one year resulting into the death of nine persons. Replying to a question, Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre had said that between April 2016 and March 2017, the maximum of 88 violations were witnessed in November 2016 followed by 78 in October 2016 and 22 in March this year....