Srinagar: Thousands of people have fled their homes as cross-border firing between Indian and Pakistani border guards in J&K’s Jammu region intensified on Wednesday, leaving, at least four civilians dead and more than thirty others injured.
A large number of livestock has also perished as mortar bombs rain on villages.
Among those injured are five Border Security Force (BSF) jawans, three of them in critical condition. The injured civilians were rushed to various hospitals including the government-run Medical College Hospital in Jammu.
The BSF officials said the Pakistani border guards resorted to unprovoked heavy mortar shelling at its Border Outposts (BoPs) and civilian areas Tuesday night, prompting it (BSF) to retaliate “befittingly”.
They added, “The mortar shelling and firing by automatic small and medium weapons from across which continued throughout the night intensified on Wednesday morning.”
The flare up comes a day after Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, said the forces have a free hand to respond as they deem fit if the neighbouring country continues the offensive.
Speaking at the BSF’s 16th investiture ceremony function in New Delhi, Rajnath Singh said, “We have a neighbour that does not want to correct itself”.
He also said, “Yet, we must not fire the first bullet at our neighbour. But if it opens fire, you (forces) have to decide what action to take. Then no one will ask why you did so.”
Earlier, the BSF had reported that the Pakistan’s Punjab Rangers targeted its 24 Border Outposts (BOPs) along the International Border (IB) –called ‘Working Boundary’ in Islamabad-in Samba, Kathua and Jammu districts.
With fresh killings the toll in days of exchange of mortar bombs and firing by small and medium automatic weapons between the BSF and Punjab Rangers along the Jammu-Sialkot border has risen to 23. While two BSF jawans, nine civilians have been killed and more than fifty were injured on the Indian side of the international border.
The authorities in Islamabad had reported the death of six civilians and injuries to 10 others on their side of the border on May 18 and another six killed and 25 injured on May 21.
The fresh skirmishes began on May 15.
The officials in Jammu said that a war-like situation prevailed in various sectors of the IB in Samba, Hiranagar, Ramgarh, R S Pura, Arnia and Bishnah sectors as mortars rain on villages, forcing about forty thousand residents to flee their homes and relocate to safer locations. They said that most affected in Pakistani shelling is Arnia sector where from most of the people have been evacuated or they left on their own.
“There are about 25 villages in this sector and many of these and also the main town of Arnia have been deserted by residents who left on their own or were evacuated by the police and civil administrations using various modes of transport including bullet-proof police vehicles,” said an official.
All the schools falling within 5-km radius of the IB have been shut by the authorities. Also medical teams have been rushed to the affected areas to provide first aid to the injured and supplement the evacuation effort, the official said.
The officials also said that the heavy mortar shelling continued throughout the night also in Hiranagar, Samba, Kathua and R S Pura areas during which forty BSF BOPs were targeted by Punjab Rangers.
The BSF said that the Punjab Rangers on the 9th day running on Wednesday resorted to heavy and indiscriminate shelling of mortar bombs and firing of small arms and automatic weapons to target its BoPs and villages in the Ramgarh and Samba sectors.
The police officials said that two civilians were killed and six injured in the shelling and firing in Samba which started at around 9 am and soon spread to neighbouring sectors.
Heavy shelling and firing were reported around dawn also in Hiranagar sector of Kathua district during which three people were injured one of whom succumbed on way to hospital, the officials said. One more civilian was killed elsewhere. Among the slain is a woman.
The firing and shelling are going on in R S Pura, Arnia and Bishnah of Jammu district and Ramgarh and Samba sectors since Tuesday night, the police said.
The BSF said that several bunkers of the Punjab Rangers were hit in its retaliatory shelling and firing resulting in several casualties among the Pakistani border guards. “Our jawans are strongly and effectively retaliating to unprovoked Pakistani shelling and firing,” a spokesman of the BSF said.
The Pakistani officials said that dozens of villages along the Sialkot border including Phookaliyaan-Bajwat, Chaprar, Sucheetgarh, Harpal, Bajra Garhi, Charwah and Zafarwal-Shakargarh have been affected in the “unprovoked” Indian firing, forcing the residents to abandon their homes and migrate to safer locations. They said that damage to the public property and number of casualties caused in fresh Indian firing and shelling are being ascertained....