Pakistani artillery kills 18 civilians in Kashmir attack

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The Independent Online
Pakistani shelling has killed 18 Indian civilians along the border in Kashmir, in spite of a recent agreement between the countries to cease hostilities. A 50-year-old conflict looks set to continue.

Heavy cross-border shelling from Pakistan killed 18 civilians and injured 30 others in India's northern Kashmir yesterday, defence officials said.

It was one of the worst peacetime civilian tolls in a border skirmish between the two countries.

Shells rained on the Himalayan border town of Kargil starting early yesterday afternoon and continuing after nightfall.

Thousands of residents fled the town, said the Army spokesman, Anil Bhatt. "There is a virtual exodus," he said. Mr Bhatt confirmed 15 dead, but defence officials in the area cited initial reports which had put the death toll at 18.

It was the third serious incident in the last month, although artillery shelling across the disputed frontier is routine. Pakistan had fired on Kargil in June for nearly two days, forcing many residents to flee to areas out of the range of the shells.

Defence and civilian officials in Jammu, the state capital of Jammu-Kashmir, said shells hit a bus stand and a mosque.

Mr Bhatt said that some of the shells may have hit a hospital.

The firing came less than a week after Indian and Pakistani prime ministers met in New York and promised to bring such incidents under control. But there has been no noticeable tapering off.

On Saturday, Pakistani troops fired several shells at an area where India's defence minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, was speaking to soldiers. There were no reported injuries.

Jammu-Kashmir's chief minister, the top elected official, condemned yesterday's attack. "This exposes Pakistan's insincerity in normalising relations with India," said Farooq Abdullah.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars in the last 50 years over the Kashmir region. Their armies are face-to-face along a long stretch of boundary, part international border but mostly a ceasefire line. Indian police and hospital officials say more than 20,000 people have died in insurgency-related violence since a separatist rebellion began in the Kashmir valley in 1990.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of arming and training guerrillas groups who cross the border to fight against Indian rule, but Pakistan says it offers only diplomatic and moral support.