SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Tensions soared Wednesday along the volatile frontier between India and Pakistan in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, as rival soldiers shelled dozens of villages and border posts for a sixth straight day.
A total of six civilians and a soldier were killed on the two sides, officials said, in escalating violence in the disputed region that both countries blame the other for initiating.
Indian police said Pakistani soldiers continued targeting dozens of Indian border posts and villages with mortars and automatic gunfire in the Jammu region. At least five civilians were killed and 30 others injured on the Indian side, said a top police officer, S.D. Singh.
In Pakistan, two security officials said Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged fire near Sialkot city in eastern Punjab province. They said the two sides had traded fire over the past 48 hours, killing a civilian and a soldier.
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The officials said several people were also wounded, including three border guards. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
As in the past, each country accused the other of initiating the latest border skirmishes and violating a 2003 cease-fire agreement.
Wednesday’s fighting follows days of confrontations that left four civilians on each side and two Indian soldiers dead.
The fighting has sent tens of thousands of villagers fleeing from their homes in dozens of affected villages along the border to government buildings converted into temporary shelters or to the houses of friends and relatives living in safer places.
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 says Indian forces have carried out more than 1,050 cease-fire violations this year, resulting in the deaths of 28 civilians and injuries to 117 others.
India says 25 civilians and 18 government troops have been killed this year in over 800 cease-fire violations initiated by Pakistan. They say dozens have been injured and scores of cattle have perished.
This year, soldiers from the two nations have engaged in fierce border skirmishes along the rugged and mountainous Line of Control, as well as a lower-altitude 200-kilometer (125-mile) boundary separating Indian-controlled Kashmir and the Pakistani province of Punjab, where the latest fighting occurred.
India and Pakistan have a long history of bitter relations over Kashmir, which both claim. They have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over their competing claims to the region.
The fighting has become a predictable cycle of violence as the region convulses with decades-old animosities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, where rebel groups demand that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.
India accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and also helping them by providing gunfire as cover for incursions into the Indian side.
Pakistan denies this, saying it offers only moral and diplomatic support to the militants and to Kashmiris who oppose Indian rule.
Rebels have been fighting Indian rule since 1989. Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the uprising and the ensuing Indian military crackdown.
Ahmed reported from Islamabad.