ISLAMABAD - Pakistan says cross-border firing by India Wednesday killed at least 11 civilians and three soldiers in the disputed Kashmir region.
The military claimed retaliatory fire by Pakistani troops also killed at least seven Indian soldiers. But it did not cite sources for giving the toll for the other side and India has not yet responded to the claims.
The Pakistani civilian casualties occurred in the Neelam Valley near the Line of Control, or LoC, which divides the Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.
Officials said that the Indian fire struck a passenger bus and the death toll was likely to increase.
Pakistan military’s media wing alleged Indian troops also targeted an ambulance that was sent for evacuation. Residents in Neelam told VOA they were forced to flee to take refuge in bunkers around their villages shortly after the early morning clashes erupted.
The latest skirmishes came a day after the Indian Army vowed retribution for killing three of its soldiers by Pakistani troops across the de facto Kashmir border.
One of the bodies had been allegedly mutilated, charges Pakistani military officials rejected as “a fabrication.”
Indian army officials have not yet commented on the bus attack but confirmed ceasefire violations by Pakistan "all along the Line of Control" in Kashmir.
Both countries have been routinely trading fire in Kashmir in recent months, rendering a 2003 mutual ceasefire understanding ineffective.
The clashes have caused military and civilian casualties on both sides and raised fears of another wider conflict between India and Pakistan.
“India also maintained direct military pressure on Pakistan through deployment of advanced weapons systems, offensive troops positioning to refine the (Indian) capacity of a surprise attack [against Pakistan],” warned Pakistani foreign policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz.
He told a conference of South Asian experts in Islamabad that tensions on the eastern border are undermining Pakistan’s ongoing counterterrorism efforts to secure its 2,600-kilometer porous frontier with Afghanistan.
“India has increased ceasefire violations on the LoC (in Kashmir) to constrain Pakistan army’s ability to deploy more resources on its western borders with Afghanistan,” Aziz asserted.
Around 200,000 Pakistani troops have already been engaged in major operations against local and foreign terrorist groups in the volatile borderland blamed for deadly attacks in both the countries.
Tension between India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons, have been running high since September when suspected Islamist militants raided an Indian military base in Kashmir, killing 19 soldiers.
New Delhi alleged the assault originated from the Pakistani side of Kashmir, charges Islamabad rejected.
Days later the Indian army claimed it had conducted retaliatory “surgical strikes” on militant bases near the LoC in Pakistani Kashmir, assertions Pakistan rejected as “fabricated and politically motivated.”