Authorities on both sides of the disputed Kashmir region depopulate villages following heavy artillery exchange by the Pakistani and Indian armies, in the worst border skirmishes since the 2003 ceasefire.

Mourners gather around the body of Inzamam Hussain, who was killed in an Indian cross-border firing at Tatrinote area located on the Line of Control (LoC) in Madarpur sector in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on February 22, 2018.
Mourners gather around the body of Inzamam Hussain, who was killed in an Indian cross-border firing at Tatrinote area located on the Line of Control (LoC) in Madarpur sector in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on February 22, 2018. (AFP)

Authorities on both portions of disputed Kashmir are emptying villages on the de facto border following heavy exchange of artillery fire by the Pakistani and Indian armies, local media said. 

Around 3,000 villagers have been evacuated in India-administered Kashmir after Pakistani shelling on the Indian posts, India's English-language news website Firstpost reported on Monday.  

Quoting officials, it said the villagers have been moved to schools and temporary camps following heavy shelling – the worst since 2003 when Pakistan and India decided to cease fire on the contentious Line of Control or LoC that has divided the Himalayan region since 1947.

It was not clear what triggered the latest fighting in the Uri sector of India-administered Kashmir but tensions have been high following a rebel attack on an Indian army camp earlier this month in which six soldiers were killed.

India blamed Pakistan for the attack and said it would make its nuclear rival pay for the "misadventure." That attack was denied by Pakistan which warned India of consequences for any cross-LoC raid.

Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 but both claim the territory in full.
Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 but both claim the territory in full. (TRTWorld)

'Worst example of deception'

Meanwhile, authorities in Pakistan-administered Kashmir have announced plans to depopulate several villages being targeted by Indian mortars and snipers. 

Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir (or Azad Jammu and Kashmir) Raja Farooq Haider issued orders to relocate thousands of villagers contiguous to the disputed border, reports said. 

"Indian army attack on the school van driver by the sniper gun is the worst example of the deception. Indian Army is the worst army around the globe who targets innocent civilians including women, children and old men," The Express Tribune quoted  him as saying.

Pakistan's foreign ministry said in a statement that 17 Pakistani civilians had been killed by Indian fire along the LoC so far this year.

Officials say it is the first time the heavy guns had been used by both sides, puncturing a 2003 ceasefire along the disputed frontier.

The two armies have been exchanging intermittent small-arms and mortar fire over the past couple of years as ties deteriorated.

Last week, Pakistani authorities made announcements from a mosque advising villagers in India-administered Kashmir close to the LoC to flee, saying the situation was bad.

Divided for seven decades

Kashmir remains divided and its sovereignty disputed between Pakistan and India since their independence from Britain in 1947. Both claim the territory in full and have fought two wars and a mini war in 1999 over the region.

Around 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in a popular armed revolt that erupted in 1989 by several resistance groups demanding that Kashmir be granted independence or merged with Pakistan.

India has stationed over half a million troops in the region where anti-India sentiment runs deep, with most people supporting the rebel cause. 

The UN, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and other countries have called for a UN-brokered referendum in line with several UN resolutions on the region but New Delhi rejects any third-party role in the dispute. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies