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Border villagers evacuated in Jammu

Srinagar, Aug. 24: Over 8,000 people in Jammu’s border villages have been evacuated following relentless Pakistani shelling that has renewed calls for permanently shifting the residents to safer zones.

The relocations, ordered by the Jammu and Kashmir government, came as two soldiers and four suspected militants were killed in two separate encounters near the Line of Control in north Kashmir today.

Chief minister Omar Abdullah claimed “civilians were killed and injured by design” during the ceasefire violations and appeared to suggest the Narendra Modi government’s decision to call off talks with the neighbour would make any resolution difficult.

“Given the breakdown in communications between India and Pakistan, I don’t know how the Narendra Modi government plans to resolve this issue. But they have an obligation to resolve this because they promised good days to this country,” Omar said, alluding to Modi’s ache din (good days) slogan.

Officials said there had been no let-up in the Pakistani firing, which had killed a six-year-old boy and his father on Friday night.

Davinder Singh, the sub-divisional police officer Ranbir Singh Pora where the two deaths occurred, said the evacuations were being carried out as a precautionary measure. “A male member or two in every household has stayed back to take care of their cattle. The rest have been shifted,” he said, adding some people had taken refuge in government facilities in villages outside the firing range.

Official sources said thousands — in addition to the 8,000 officially shifted so far — left homes each night for relatives’ houses outside the danger zone.

Kuldeep Kumar, the sarpanch of Chakroi village that is only 2.5km from border, said many wanted to be permanently shifted. “The Pakistani shelling keeps us awake all night. Last night, it was so intense that people living several kilometres away could hear it. People want to be shifted and properly rehabilitated,” said Kumar, whose village of 10,000 is the most heavily populated in the area.

In the Kashmir encounters today, the two soldiers killed were identified as Naik Neeraj Kumar Singh of 57 Rashtriya Rifles and Grenadier Rahul Kumar of 23 Grenadiers Battalion. Neeraj died battling the militants in Kupwara and Rahul in the Keran sector.