The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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LoC firing

Jammu/Islamabad, Jan. 27: Indian and Pakistani troops today engaged in intense mortar and artillery shelling along the Line of Control in Poonch sector, breaking the lull of the past few months and prompting Islamabad to iterate that deployment of UN observers on both sides of the LoC was the best way to verify infiltration claims, report our correspondents.

Pakistan started the firing in the morning. The Indian Army retaliated within minutes as Pakistani shells landed in villages on this side of the LoC, endangering the lives and property of residents. Villagers fled their homes when the shells started falling on Bindi Chechiayan, Digwar, Khalsa and other villages. When reports last came in from Poonch, on the edge of the Pir Panjal range across which the LoC criss-crosses, the shelling had intensified.

According to one report, Indian troops had destroyed the “Chuha” post of the Pakistan army and was now going after other posts from where Indian villages were being targetted.

So far, there have been no Indian casualties. The real extent of the damage would be known only after the exchange ends.

Pakistan, however, claimed to have killed or seriously wounded at least five Indian soldiers at the LoC. That country has started firing from other areas in the sector, too.

An Indian Army spokesman said the designs of the Pakistani troops were clear for they were probably helping terrorists infiltrate into India.

Today’s firing ended the past few months’ calm at the LoC. Though minor exchanges were often reported earlier, a flare-up of this magnitude had not been seen in recent months — not after June or July when troops had amassed on either side.

At a briefing today, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said his country had taken all measures and there was no infiltration across the LoC. He added any statement to the contrary might be based on other sources. According to Khan, Pakistan’s call for UN observers was based on the need to verify “who was wrong”. “The best thing is to take up our offer that UN observers should be deployed on both sides in as large a number as necessary to verify who is correct.”

Khan said Pakistan’s position on infiltration was also made clear at the recent meeting of the country’s additional secretary Aneesuddin Ahmed and US ambassador Nancy Powell.

According to Khan, Ahmed had invited Powell for discussions on her remarks at the American Business Council meeting early this week.

Khan took the opportunity to dub as “absolutely absurd” defence minister George Fernandes’ warning last night to Pakistan on Aap ki Bath, BBC ke Sath, the BBC World phone-in programme in Hindi.

Fernandes said Pakistan would be “erased from the world map” if it used nuclear weapons against India.

“We have been saying all through that the person who heads Pakistan today, who is also the whole and sole in-charge of that country, has been talking about using dangerous weapons, including the nukes,” Fernandes said.

According to Khan, talking peace and resolving problems were the need of the hour. There was no risk in India and Pakistan starting a dialogue for the resolution of outstanding issues, he said.

Pakistan’s stand on the dialogue process, Khan said, has been vindicated by the international community that is supportive of a negotiated settlement of disputes between the two countries, including Kashmir.

Khan said it was unfortunate that the Indian leadership was making statements which would not help ease tension in the region.

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