5 civilians die in Pak firing, thousands flee

The Asian Age.  | Yusuf Jameel

India, All India

Protest to Pak envoy over Jammu border escalation.

A large number of livestock has also perished as mortar bombs rained on villages. (Representational Image)

Srinagar: Thousands of people have fled their homes as cross-border firing between Indian and Pakistani border guards in the Jammu region intensified Wednesday, leaving at least five civilians dead and 11 others injured. A large number of livestock has also perished as mortar bombs rained on villages.

Among those injured are five Border Security Force jawans, three of them critically. The injured civilians were rushed to various hospitals, including the government-run Medical College Hospital in Jammu.

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 to retaliate “befittingly”.  They added: “The mortar shelling and firing by automatic small and medium weapons from across continued throughout the night and intensified on Wednesday morning.”

A report from Jammu said that with one of those injured persons succumbing to injuries the death toll has risen to five. The officials, confirming this, said two civilians each were killed in the Ramgarh sector of Samba district and R.S. Pura sector of Jammu district, whereas another civilian was killed in Hiranagar sector of Kathua district.

Earlier, a seven-month-old baby had died in the Pakistani firing in the Bhimber area of the Line of Control, after which Pakistan’s deputy high commissioner Syed Haider Shah was summoned to the external affairs ministry in New Delhi and a strong protest lodged on the gruesome incident reported from the Bhimber sector.

The MEA officials said it was conveyed to Mr Shah that the “deliberate targeting” of innocent civilians by the Pakistani forces using small arms and high-calibre weapons was “highly deplorable and condemned in the strongest terms”.

The flareup comes a day after home minister Rajnath Singh said the security forces had a free hand to respond as they deemed fit if the neighbouring country continued the offensive.

Speaking at the BSF’s 16th investiture ceremony in New Delhi, Mr Singh had said: “We have a neighbour that does not want to correct itself”. He had 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 reported that Pakistan’s Punjab Rangers targeted its 24 BOPs along the international border 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 the Punjab Rangers along the Jammu-Sialkot border has risen to 24. While two BSF jawans and 10 civilians have been killed and over 50 others injured on the Indian side of the IB, the authorities in Islamabad had reported the death of six civilians and injuries to 10 more on its side of the border on May 18, and another six killed and 25 injured on May 21. The fresh skirmishes, for which each side has blamed the other, began May 15.

Officials in Jammu said a war-like situation prevailed in various sectors of the IB in Samba, Hiranagar, Ramgarh, R.S. Pura, Arnia and Bishnah sectors as mortars rained on villages, forcing about 40,000 residents to flee their homes and relocate to safer locations. They said the most affected in the Pakistani shelling was Arnia sector, where most people were evacuated or had 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 administration, using various modes of transport, including bulletproof police vehicles,” said an official. All schools falling within a 5-km radius of the IB have been shut down 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 heavy mortar shelling continued through the night in Hiranagar, Samba, Kathua and R.S. Pura areas, when 40 BSF BOPs were targeted by the Punjab Rangers.

Police officials said two civilians were killed and six others 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 in Hiranagar sector of Kathua district, when three persons were injured, one of whom succumbed on the way to hospital, officials said. One more civilian was killed elsewhere. Among those slain is a woman.

The firing and shelling was going on in R.S. Pura, Arnia and Bishnah sectors of Jammu district and Ramgarh and Samba sectors since Tuesday night, the police said.

The BSF said several bunkers of Punjab Rangers were hit in its retaliatory shelling and firing, leading to several casualties among Pakistani border guards. “Our jawans are strongly and effectively retaliating to the unprovoked Pakistani shelling and firing,” a BSF spokesman said.