Hundreds of families living in the most vulnerable areas along the restive Line of Control (LoC) in Azad Jammu and Kashmir were reported to have moved to the rear areas, officials and residents said, as three more civilians were wounded on Wednesday amid unrelenting ceasefire violations by Indian troops.
Samina Bibi, 25, and her 3-year-old daughter Kanwal were injured in Manda village and Nasreen Bibi was injured and a mosque was damaged in Ghee Kot village of Khilana sector in the early hours of Wednesday, said Ahmed Raza Qadri, AJK minister for civil defence.
Khilana is located towards the right of Chakothi-Uri crossing point at the heavily militarised LoC that splits the disputed Himalayan region between Pakistan and India.
Residents said the exchange of heavy fire continued in Khilana, Chakothi and adjoining areas throughout the night and also on Wednesday in intervals.
Shabbir Ahmed, a resident of Chakothi, said his was among many families from the town which had moved to Hattian Bala or Muzaffarabad.
He said only those families had stayed back which had concrete bunkers built within or along their houses.
Officials said the federal government had sanctioned a scheme for construction of community protection bunkers in the vulnerable areas along LoC.
In 2018, a total of 678 such bunkers were built under the supervision of the Pakistan Army out of the planned 926. Work on the rest is under progress, officials said.
Qadri claimed that the morale of the people living along the LoC was very high and a vast majority of them did not want to leave their homes.
“However, we have requested the people inhabiting the most exposed areas to move back until the situation improves,” he said.
According to him, as many as 61 families from different villages of Chakothi had quit their homes and 21 of them had been accommodated in the buildings of two educational institutions in Hattian Bala.
Elsewhere, he said, 18 families in Bhimber district and 12 families in Kotli district had also been relocated in government buildings.
“The rest are staying with their relatives,” he said.
However, some officials and residents claimed that many families had moved to the rear areas on their own without getting themselves registered with the authorities concerned.
“More than 2,000 people are reported to have already moved to the rear areas in Khuiratta, Charhoi and Tattapani sectors while many in Nakyal sector are also planning relocation,” said Dr Umer Azam, deputy commissioner of Kotli, where these sectors are located.
Most of these families either owned houses or had close relatives in the urban areas, he said.
On Tuesday, four people were killed and 11 others wounded in Kotli district in “indiscriminate” shelling by Indian troops.
Qadri said all educational institutions in the “highly vulnerable” areas along the dividing line had been closed for an “indefinite period” to avert any “untoward incident.”
“Since Indian troops have targeted school vans and school buildings in many areas in the past, we could not take any chances,” he said, recalling at least two incidents in Poonch and Kotli districts in 2016 and 2018 when school vans were directly hit by Indian troops, causing casualties.
The minister said the educational institutions in the urban areas had also been closed for two days for the time being.
“We needed the buildings of educational institutions in some areas to accommodate the displaced persons,” he said. “If need be, we can extend the holidays.”
In response to a question, the minister asserted that the official machinery was fully prepared to meet any situation.
“We don’t want to create the impression that we are panicked or overwrought … we are vigilant and on hand,” he maintained.
He said holidays of all emergency staff had been cancelled and control rooms of the disaster management authority had been established in all districts.
“Everyone is playing their role according to their full capacity.”