9 dead as India, Pakistan trade fire along Kashmir border

People attend funeral Pakistani villagers allegedly killed by Indian shelling in Khanoor Mian, along the Line of Control in Pakistan, Friday, May 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Shahif Ikram)

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — Eight civilians, including an Indian husband and wife and four members of a Pakistani family, were killed when Indian and Pakistani soldiers fired at border posts and villages along the highly militarized frontier in disputed Kashmir, officials said Friday. An Indian soldier was also killed in the fighting.

The cross-border firing and shelling began overnight and spread to dozens of posts in the Jammu region of the Himalayan territory, said Indian police officer S.D. Singh.

Indian paramilitary officials said their soldiers responded to Pakistani gunfire and shelling, describing it as "unprovoked and indiscriminate." The officials said the paramilitary soldier was killed by a Pakistani sniper Thursday night, leading to cross-border firing and shelling at several forward posts.

The husband and wife were killed when a shell fired from the Pakistani side hit their home, Indian police said. Two other civilians were also killed on the Indian side. At least 12 civilians were also wounded and were being treated in hospitals.

A Pakistani woman, Kulsoom Hussain, and her three children were killed when a mortar fired by Indian troops from across the frontier struck their home, local police official Mohammad Amin said. The woman was making food at the time.

The exchange of fire between Pakistan and India continued for hours near Pakistan's city of Sialkot bordering Kashmir, forcing villagers to move to safer places.

In a statement, Pakistan army accused Indian troops of initiating an "unprovoked" violation of the 2003 cease-fire accord between the two countries along the frontier near Kashmir and targeting the civilian population, including four villagers who died Friday morning.

According to the statement, the military said Indian fire also wounded 10 people, including three children.

It said Pakistani troops "effectively" responded and targeted the Indian posts from where the fire came.

The military said the artillery exchange was continuing. Pakistan's foreign ministry said the killed civilians were members of a family.

As in the past, each country accused the other of initiating the border skirmishes and violating the cease-fire agreement.

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 Friday's fighting occurred.

Indian officials said the latest violence has sent thousands of people fleeing from their homes in dozens of frontier villages to government buildings converted into temporary shelters or to the houses of friends and relatives living in safer places. Bullets and shrapnel scarred homes and walls on both sides.

Singh, the Indian officer, said authorities were evacuating civilians living near the frontier in armored vehicles. The fighting earlier this year also sent thousands of border residents to temporary shelters for days.

Pakistan's foreign ministry summoned an Indian diplomat on Friday and lodged a strong protest over the killing of civilians along the frontier.

The ministry said Indian forces have carried out more than 1,050 cease-fire violations, resulting in the deaths of 28 civilians and injuries to 117 others.

"The cease-fire violations by India are a threat to regional peace and security and may lead to a strategic miscalculation," it said in a statement.

Indian officials say Friday's killings took the death toll in such incidents to 20 civilians and 18 government troops this year in over 700 cease-fire violations initiated by Pakistan. They say dozens have been injured and scores of cattle have perished.

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.