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Situation tense in Kashmir following India, Pakistan skirmishes on LoC

By Peerzada Arshad Hamid (Xinhua)

09:58, January 13, 2013

SRINAGAR, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Jan. 12 (Xinhua) -- The situation on the line-of-control (LoC) dividing Kashmir into India and Pakistan controlled parts Saturday remained tense for the seventh straight day, Indian officials said.

The armies of India and Pakistan posted on the LoC have been exchanging fire intermittently and thereby indulging in ceasefire violations.

"The situation is tense," said a senior Indian army officer. " Sometimes they fire on our positions to which we retaliate."

The ceasefire violation was first reported Sunday from the Uri sector of frontier Baramulla district, around 110 km northwest of Srinagar city, the summer capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir. Thereafter, another violation was reported Tuesday from Mankote- Mendhar of Poonch, around 185 km southwest of Srinagar.

Since then four troopers of both countries (two from each side) were killed in the skirmishes on the LoC.

The deadly skirmishes escalated tension along the ceasefire line and brought armies from the two sides face to face with each other. Both New Delhi and Islamabad accuse each other of resorting to unprovoked firing on the LoC and breaching the ceasefire line.

New Delhi and Islamabad in 2003 agreed to observe a ceasefire along the international border and the LoC in Kashmir. Though some violations have been reported on both sides, the ceasefire remains in effect.

The allegations of intrusion on each other have heightened tension between the two nuclear neighbors. According to defense analysts, intrusions by India and Pakistan troopers into each other's territory was unheard of since late 2003.

Kashmir, the Himalayan region divided between India and Pakistan is claimed by both in full. Since their independence from British, the two countries have fought three wars, two exclusively over Kashmir.

Pakistan said it wants a third party inquiry into the ceasefire violations on the LoC. Islamabad, according to reports, has already contacted the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) and proposed investigation into ceasefire violations. However, New Delhi has out rightly rejected any UN investigation saying it does not want to internationalize the issue.

An UNMOGIP office is also in Srinagar, which was set up in 1949 to monitor the ceasefire line, now known as the LoC.

Trade and travel across the LoC in Kashmir was suspended Thursday following the heightened tension between the two countries in the wake of deadly skirmishes.

The officials posted on LoC from the Pakistani-controlled Kashmir side refused to open the gate for goods trucks and bus.

"The authorities on the other side conveyed us today that trade will not take place due to recent incidents of violence along the LoC," said Abdul Hamid Sheikh, Custodian, LoC trade and Bus service, at Poonch, a town in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

"We were told both trade and travel will resume only after normalcy returns."

According to India's official broadcaster, All India Radio (AIR) , around 58 residents from Indian-controlled Kashmir and 65 from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir are stranded on both sides of the LoC due to the suspension of cross LoC bus service.

Cross LoC travel (bus service) between divided Kashmir was started in April 7, 2005. It was followed by cross LoC trade on Oct. 21, 2008.

Cross LoC travel and trade were considered as biggest confidence building measure between New Delhi and Islamabad.

The looming impasse has increased fears among the locals especially those living close to the LoC. Reports from frontier villages of Poonch and Uri said people have started taking shelter in the underground bunkers close to their houses.

"We are very worried because of the heightening tension and take shelter in the ground floor and underground bunkers," said Ahmad Din, a villager in a telephone interview from Poonch. "We used to hide in underground bunkers when India and Pakistan armies were firing mortars and shells at each other before 2003, however following the ceasefire agreement between the two countries life was peaceful until now."

AlR Saturday said there has been no response from the Pakistani side so far to India's call for a Brigadier level flag meeting at the LoC to defuse tension between the two countries. However reports said the Director General Military Operations from both the countries were in regular touch.

Analysts say there was a need to address the prevailing situation immediately, which otherwise can result in complete stalemate.

"If tension persists, we will be pushed to the position pre 2005, where from the two countries started picking threads for peace," said Showkat Ali, a political analyst. "The stalemate will undo the whole goodwill that has been built since then."

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