Kashmir death toll hits 12 as cross-border shelling continues

AFP , Wednesday 8 Oct 2014

Indian villagers take shelter inside an army bunker at Devi Garh village near Jammu October 7, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Three more civilians were killed in Kashmir as Indian and Pakistani forces kept up heavy cross-border firing in the disputed region overnight, officials said Wednesday, taking the toll to 12, with dozens more injured.

The latest casualties came after nine people died on Monday, the troubled region's highest civilian toll in a single day in more than a decade.

Thousands of people on both sides of the disputed border have fled their homes to escape the shelling, which has fanned tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but both lay claim to the scenic Himalayan region, and clashes occur regularly along their disputed border known as the Line of Control (LoC).

On the Indian side, two civilians were killed overnight Tuesday and 18 injured, some of them critically, director general of police K. Rajendra told AFP.

On the Pakistani side, a 19-year-old woman died when mortar shells fired by Indian troops hit her house near the LoC, local administration official Shaukat Ali told AFP.

An AFP reporter in the area said intermittent gunfire was continuing and residents had fled their homes after shelling damaged several houses and ripped power cables and electricity transformers.

Indian security sources said the shelling appeared to be more intense than on previous occasions, and had occurred along the internationally recognised border between India and Pakistan as well as the LoC.

India and Pakistan -- which have fought two wars over the Muslim-majority Himalayan region -- traded blame for the latest escalation in violence.

"Pakistan fired on our positions last night with small arms and mortars. We responded with appropriate force," Indian army spokesman S.D. Goswani told AFP on Wednesday.

Pakistan's military blamed unprovoked firing from India, which has an estimated 500,000 troops deployed in its part of Kashmir.

Fighting between Indian forces and rebels seeking independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan has killed tens of thousands -- mostly civilians -- since 1989.

Violence has fallen in the region since 2004 when the countries began a peace process a year after signing a ceasefire agreement that has largely held.

India called off peace talks last month after Pakistan consulted with Indian Kashmiri separatists, in a move some saw as a sign of a tougher stance under India's new right-wing government.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Tuesday that India would "not tolerate such acts of border violations by Pakistan".

"Pakistan must realise that a decisive government has come to power, which will not take such instances lying down," Singh said in an interview with the Hindustan Times daily published Tuesday.

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