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Three more civilians killed in skirmishes

May 21, 2002

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ISLAMABAD, May 20: Three more civilians were killed and another 17 injured as the skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani security forces continued unabated on Monday, forcing evacuation from villages that lie in proximity to the border, defence officials said.

Civilians have been evacuated from the villages close to the working boundary — the border between the Indian occupied Kashmir and Pakistan, a spokesman for Inter- Services Public Relations said.

“Indian army continued indiscriminate and totally unprovoked firing and shelling across the Line of Control and the working boundary today,” an official announcement said.

“Indian army resorted to shelling in different sub-sectors, including Samnai, Nikial, Satwal, Chakothi and Dudnial on the Line of Control with artillery, mortars, rifles and other direct firing weapons, causing destruction of property owned by the civilians,” it added.

At the working boundary, the Indian army opened fire in Marala, Miraj Key and Shakargarh sub-sectors, it said.

President’s spokesman, Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi, talking to Dawn on phone, said the Indian army was using medium artillery, considered as a heavy-calibre weapon, on the Line of Control as well as on the working boundary in Sialkot area.

There has been no change in the situation and the Indian army continued to target civilian population in the area, which has already resulted in the killing of over two dozen innocent civilians, he said.

Maj-Gen Qureshi called upon the international community to step in and use their influence over the Indian government to help defuse the situation.

The Indian belligerence towards Pakistan and heavy deployment of troops on the eastern borders, he said, was hampering international war against terrorism.

“India is actually working against the anti-terrorism campaign of the international community,” he said, adding that Pakistani forces’ engagement on the eastern borders was deflecting its focus from the anti-terrorism operation on the western borders.

On reports that Pakistan had deployed Shaheen missile, having a range of 750 kilometres, on the eastern borders, he said all such reports were baseless.

When asked whether Pakistan would exercise the nuclear option in case of a full-scale war, he said India would not go for a full-scale war with Pakistan.

The deployment of troops by the Indian government was just a “pressure tactic” and an attempt to divert the attention of Indian public from internal problems, he said.

He refuted Indian allegations that Pakistan was sponsoring militants in Kashmir. In the presence of over a million troops at the Line of Control and inside Kashmir, besides heavy mining of the LoC, the allegations of infiltration were totally absurd and baseless, he said.

Mr Qureshi pointed out that 10 to 15 people were being killed by the Indian security forces in Kashmir every day since Sept 11, 2001.

He described as “ridiculous” a statement of Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes which was issued after a meeting of the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security.

Mr Fernandes had warned that the Indian army would give “a befitting reply” if fired upon by the Pakistani troops.

Mr Qureshi said, Pakistani army was returning fire in defence and to protect its civilian population.

He said India had adopted an aggressive posture after having realized during the Agra summit that it had no case on Kashmir and Pakistan’s stand was based on principles.