New Delhi, July 28: An Indian soldier was killed in an altercation with Pakistani soldiers who crossed into Indian territory in north Kashmir this afternoon carrying a white flag.
A senior officer at army headquarters, who confirmed the incident, said the ceasefire along the contested border, the Line of Control, was under severe stress.
This afternoons shooting across the LoC in Kupwaras Nowgam sub-sector is the sixth such instance in Kashmir in two months and threatens to unravel the ceasefire that has held for the better part of five years.
The frequency of ceasefire violations has risen since May this year. Todays incident adds to the tension between New Delhi and Islamabad that began building after the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul earlier this month.
Asked if the ceasefire on the LoC would hold with the number of disputes increasing, the officer said: It is under severe stress, whether by design or by accident, and we do not want the tension to escalate.
Defence spokesman A.K. Mathur said in Srinagar: A soldier in a track suit with a white flag in his hand was leading them and they were around 200 metres inside our territory. When our patrol saw them we did not open fire because they were carrying that flag.
The soldier who was leading the Indian patrol tried to move close to find out why the Pakistanis had crossed the LoC but was greeted with fire that killed him on the spot, he said.
Till late this evening, the two sides were still firing at each other and the body had not been recovered. The officer said though the body was on the Indian side, an attempt to recover it would expose more soldiers to Pakistani firing.
There were unconfirmed reports that four Pakistani soldiers had died.
Even yesterday, the two sides had exchanged fire in the Mendhar sector. Till the truce was agreed upon by New Delhi and Islamabad in October 2003, such firing and killing were almost a routine.
So far the firing today has been restricted to small-calibre weapons that are a step below the heavier artillery fire which was a regular feature along the LoC before the ceasefire.
The Indian Army has asked for a flag meeting and expects that the dispute will be localised and not escalate into a conflict along the border.
Political and diplomatic tension often manifested itself in the firing across the LoC before the ceasefire was agreed upon. After the blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad on consecutive days, the tension is mounting.
About 15 soldiers of a Pakistani army unit identified by the Indian Army as 21 PoK crossed into Indian territory around 1530 hours today and asked the Indian Army to vacate a post near the Neelum Valley where the LoC is poorly demarcated, the officer said. The Indian soldiers of a platoon of the 22 Rajput regiment refused, claiming that the post was theirs.
The army headquarters officer said the Indian Army bunker near which the altercation took place was a forward observation post but it was not occupied at all times.
It is one of the hotly contested spots along the disputed LoC. On the Indian side, the fence the army has erected runs behind the post inside Indian territory. The altercation and the firing were across the Neelum Valley, the officer said, from soldiers at heights of about 9,000 feet.
Inputs from Muzaffar Raina in Srinagar