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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Heavy civilian casualties in cross-border firing between India and Pakistan

Tensions high as shelling of villages and border posts enters third day

Indian villagers disembark from a military vehicle after being removed to safety following shelling from the Pakistan side of the border in Ranbir Singh Pura district of Jammu and Kashmir on January 19, 2018. Channi Anand / AP Photo
Indian villagers disembark from a military vehicle after being removed to safety following shelling from the Pakistan side of the border in Ranbir Singh Pura district of Jammu and Kashmir on January 19, 2018. Channi Anand / AP Photo

At least three civilians were killed and 19 injured on both sides of the frontier between India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir on Friday as rival troops continued shelling villages and border posts for a third day.

Indian police officer S D Singh said two civilians died and at least 10 were injured in Indian-controlled Kashmir. According to Pakistani officials, Indian fire on Friday killed a civilian and wounded nine others in Sialkot in Pakistan's eastern Punjab province.

An Indian paramilitary officer said soldiers were responding to Pakistani firing and shelling on dozens of border posts and called it an "unprovoked" violation of a 2003 ceasefire accord.

Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned Indian deputy high commissioner J P Singh and condemned what it called "unprovoked ceasefire violations" by India.

Both countries have accused the other of initiating past border skirmishes and causing civilian and military casualties.

An Indian officer said Friday's shelling came after a relative calm overnight in Jammu following two days of fighting that left at least three civilians and a soldier dead and several others wounded.

Mr Singh, the Indian police officer, said shells had been landing in dozens of villages since early Friday. He said authorities deployed bulletproof vehicles to evacuate people who were injured and sick.

Dozens of schools in villages along the frontier have been closed and authorities advised residents to stay indoors as shells and bullets rained down. Some damage to houses was also reported on the Indian side.

Pakistan urged India to respect the ceasefire, investigate the latest incidents and maintain peace on the frontier. It also asked India to allow the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan to play its mandated role in accordance with Security Council resolutions.

"This unprecedented escalation in ceasefire violations by India is continuing" since 2017 despite calls for restraint from Islamabad, Pakistan's statement said.

India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, a Himalayan territory claimed by both in its entirety. They have fought two of their three wars over the region since they gained independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

The latest fighting is taking place along a somewhat-defined frontier where each country has a separate paramilitary border force guarding their lower-altitude 200-kilometer boundary separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab.

The contentious frontier also includes a 740km mountainous stretch called the Line of Control that is guarded by the armies of India and Pakistan.

The fire exchange comes days after Islamabad accused Indian forces of killing four Pakistani soldiers along the Line of Control in Kashmir, where rebel groups demand that the region be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.

India accuses Pakistan of arming and training the rebels, which Pakistan denies.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown since 1989.