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Pak shelling kills 4 BSF troopers

BSF personnel raise slogans against Pakistan after paying tribute to four of their colleagues killed in Pakistani firing at a wreath laying ceremony at Paloura BSF Headquarters in Jammu on Wednesday. (PTI)

Srinagar: A Border Security Force assistant commandant and three other troopers died in Pakistani shelling on an Indian post in Jammu on Tuesday night in the highest single-day toll of security personnel in enemy attacks this year.

BSF officials said the latest casualties had taken its total number of men killed in Pakistani shelling in the past six months to 11; three more than the combined toll of the preceding four years.

State police chief S.P. Vaid said the shelling - that also injured five BSF men - took place in the Ramgarh sector of Samba district. "Our heart goes to those who lost their dear ones," he tweeted.

The BSF has identified the slain men as assistant commandant Jitendra Singh, 34; sub-inspector Rajneesh Kumar, 32; assistant sub-inspector Ram Niwas, 52, and constable Hansraj Gurjar, 28. Except for Kumar, who was from Uttar Pradesh, all the others were from Rajasthan.

Officials said troopers from the Pakistani Rangers used snipers from the Ashraf post to target the Indian soldiers and then unleashed mortar fire when the injured were being shifted to inflict more casualties.

"The firing started around 9.40pm on Tuesday and continued till the wee hours today. Our side retaliated appropriately," an official said.

The number of casualties on the other side could not be ascertained.

Tuesday night's attack was the second major ceasefire violation along the International Border this month. On June 3, two BSF men were killed and 10 people, including civilians, were injured along the IB in the Pragwal, Kanachak and Khour sectors of Jammu.

That was after the directors general of military operations of the two countries had agreed on May 29 to implement the ceasefire pact of 2003 in "letter and spirit".

Last week, the sector commanders of the BSF and the Rangers had met on the Jammu border and pledged to ensure peace.

An officer said Pakistani shelling had left 26 civilians and 24 security personnel dead since January - 20 more than the toll for the whole of last year.

Eight BSF men, the officer added, had lost their lives in Pakistani shelling between 2014 and 2017.

BSF additional director general Kamal Nayan Choubey, who flew to Jammu from Delhi following Tuesday night's attack, said the sector commanders had decided to uphold the ceasefire when they met last week. "India has maintained the sanctity of the ceasefire but Pakistan has violated it," he said.

"It is very unfortunate. The ceasefire announcements are decisions meant to be honoured. We have honoured it, Pakistan has not. What Pakistan does is Pakistan's business, how we respond to Pakistan's betrayal is our job," Choubey added, hinting at a strong retaliation.

Last month, Pakistani shelling had forced around 80,000 residents of dozens of villages along the border to flee their homes. The villagers have since returned home but live in perpetual fear.

Pakistan, however, claims it is India that has been targeting its positions, prompting it to retaliate. A 45-year-old civilian died on Tuesday in alleged Indian shelling in the Poonch district of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

A BSF spokesman said a sector-level flag meeting was held around 4.40pm at India's request. The BSF was represented by DIG P.S. Dhiman and the Pakistan side by Brigadier Mohammad Amjad.

India lodged a strong protest and warned that such a "cowardly act" would not be tolerated in the future, the BSF said.

Pakistan denied the Indian charge and said it had retaliated after a ceasefire violation by India. Both sides agreed to maintain peace and harmony on the border.

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