SULERIA, Pakistan – At least six Pakistani villagers were killed and 26 were wounded in an overnight attack by India in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, Pakistan’s military said Friday, adding that hundreds of villagers were forced to move to safer places.
The Indian army said in a statement that all violations of a 2003 cease-fire agreement in Kashmir have been initiated by Pakistani forces. The disputed Kashmir region is divided between Pakistan and India but both claim it in its entirety.
The attack, first reported Thursday night, came as Pakistan Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi accused New Delhi of committing 600 such cease-fire violations since January.
In a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, Abbasi urged the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to Kashmir and reiterated his accusations against India, saying New Delhi is “brutally suppressing” the struggle of the people in Kashmir.
In Friday’s statement, Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said women and children were among the villagers killed or wounded in what he called “unprovoked” Indian shelling across the boundary in the Charwah and Harpal villages on the Pakistani side.
In a statement, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the death toll was expected to rise as several wounded were in critical condition. Initially, the army said four Pakistani civilians had died in the attack.
A news photographer saw terrified residents living near the Kashmir frontier being evacuated to Suleria village and elsewhere in Sialkot district amid intermittent exchanges of fire between the two sides.
Zubaida Begum, 72, told a news agency from a hospital in the city of Sialkot that the Indian attack damaged homes in her village of Charwa. She said two of her relatives were killed in Thursday’s fire.
“Only we know with how much difficulty we fled our village and even we did not have time to lock our homes when we ran for shelter due to intense Indian shelling,” she said.
Mohammad Asim, 21, said many people left their villages in panic after Thursday’s firing.
“We could hear fire coming from India and we could also feel that the Pakistan army was retaliating. Both sides used heavy weapons,” he said from beside of his cousin, who was being treated at hospital after being hit with a bullet in the shoulder.
In New Delhi, the Indian army said in a statement that all cease-fire violations in Kashmir have been initiated by Pakistani forces and that India only responds to infractions. It said in this case Indian troops targeted “armed intruders” who were “attempting to infiltrate” into India from the Pakistan side of the border.
Pakistan’s army in a statement dismissed the claim as baseless, saying Pakistan only returns fire after coming under attack. The army also said it contacted its Indian counterpart over a crisis hotline to discuss the Indian army’s “deliberate targeting of Pakistani civilians.”
On Friday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry summoned India’s top diplomat in the capital Islamabad and “strongly condemned the unprovoked ceasefire violations by the Indian occupation forces,” it said in a statement. It said Pakistan asked India to respect a 2003 cease-fire arrangement as well as investigate cross-border firing incidents.
In a statement, police in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, said at least four villagers were wounded and several homes were damaged in the Indian-held sector after Pakistan violated the cease-fire accord by firing guns and mortar shells at Indian forward posts in Kashmir.
The police said the firing began on Thursday night and continued till Friday morning and that over 700 civilians living near the frontier were evacuated to safer places.
Pakistan and India have fought two wars over control of the disputed region since their independence from Britain in 1947.