Shell shocked villagers flee border areas

Shell shocked villagers flee border areas

By NOOR-UL-QAMRAIN | SRINAGAR | 12 January, 2013
The Army has reoccupied forward posts vacated because of heavy snow.

Villagers residing along the Line of Control are leaving their homes in droves as tension escalates between India and Pakistan. Churunda in Uri sector has turned into a ghost village after heavy shelling by the Pakistan Army. "Shelling from Pakistani posts has damaged many houses," Sharif-ud-Din Khatana, a Churunda villager, told this newspaper over phone. Some other such villages are Gharkote and Nambla. Migrating villagers say that the underground bunkers where they could hide earlier were damaged in the 2005 earthquake, so fleeing is the only option they have. Deputy Commissioner of Baramulla, Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad said that the government was ready to airlift people to safer locations.

Similar tales can be heard from Poonch as well. Dozens of families have migrated from the area after heavy shelling. "There was a ceasefire between Indian and Pakistan since 2003, but we are again migrating," said Najamullah, a resident of Mendhar Poonch.

Talking to The Sunday Guardian, the DIG of Rajouri-Poonch Range, Danish Rana said on Saturday afternoon that border clashes were confined only to Krishna Ghati sector. He said that the Army has intensified its patrolling and the police was ready to help the villagers if they came under firing from the other side of the border.

The Army has moved in to occupy all forward posts along the Line of Control in the snowbound high altitude areas of Uri, Kupwara, Gurez and Kanzalwan, after Pakistan violated the ceasefire at a number of places. Reports from Teetwal, Keran, Nowgam, Machil sectors of Kupwara and in Gurez suggest that soldiers are going back to forward posts abandoned in December 2012 because of heavy snowfall. It is routine practice to vacate some bunkers after snowfall.

"In all high altitude areas near the border the Army has started returning to the vacated bunkers, despite 20 feet of snow at many places near the LoC," a senior officer told the media.

The Intelligence Wing of the Jammu and Kashmir police has, meanwhile, reported about the presence of "suspicious civilian clusters" across the border. "We have inputs that some small armed groups were located near the border but were not attempting to cross over," a senior intelligence officer with the J&K Police told this newspaper. However, the Army has not confirmed any such reports so far. Amid media reports that Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar-e-Taiba was seen on the Pakistani side of the LoC, the presence of L&T commandos near border posts could be a reality, police sources said.

The residents of Churunda and other border villages in Uri told this newspaper that from 15 December 2012, the Indian Army started erecting fences and some new border posts. "On this issue India and Pakistan held a number of flag meetings, but the matter could not be resolved," a senior police officer told the media. He added that no new posts were being constructed in Uri.

Cross border trade has been shut down in Poonch. Pakistan has suspended the bus service between the two parts of Kashmir. The trade facility officer of Poonch, Abdul Hamid Sheikh said that he did not have any information about when the other side would resume trade and bus services.

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