Two dead, including young girl, in shelling over Kashmir border

SRINAGAR: India and Pakistan exchanged fire Monday across the border in Kashmir, officials said, killing a young girl and a soldier in just the latest bloodshed in the restive mountainous region.

A five-year-old girl died after a mortar bomb landed near her home in Poonch, a district on the Indian side of the frontier that sees heavy shelling between the nuclear-armed rivals.

A spokesman for India’s Border Security Force, which patrols the heavily militarised frontline, said one of their troops was also killed and three others wounded in the day’s barrage.

Indian forces returned fire along the de facto border after Pakistan began shelling in the morning, army spokesman Lt Colonel Devender Anand said.

The two sides agreed in 2003 to a ceasefire along the so-called “Line of Control” that divides Kashmir into zones of Indian and Pakistani control.

But the agreement is frequently violated and civilians on both sides are often caught up in the crossfire.

The deaths in Poonch came just hours after four armed men were killed in a firefight with government forces in Pulwama, a district 140 kilometres (87 miles) to the east, closer to the main city of Srinagar.

Police said one of their officers was injured, along with three soldiers, in the shootout with gunmen they described as militants.

Such violence between armed groups resisting Indian rule and government troops is not uncommon in Kashmir.

But the region has been particularly bloody this year, with at least 162 people killed between January and March — including 21 civilians.

Over the same period in 2018, 119 people had died. Last year was the bloodiest year in almost a decade.

In February, at least 40 paramilitary troops were killed in a suicide bombing.

New Delhi, which blamed Pakistan for supporting the militants behind the blast, launched retaliatory air raids inside Pakistani territory for the first time in decades.

Tensions escalated as Pakistani and Indian jets fought over the skies in Kashmir. The situation calmed down when an Indian pilot, who was captured in the dogfight, was returned by Pakistan, which denied supporting the militants.

But both sides have shelled across the border in Kashmir since, sending residents fleeing.

Kashmir has been divided since the end of British colonial rule in 1947 and both New Delhi and Islamabad claim the former Himalayan kingdom in full.

India has about 500,000 soldiers in the part of Kashmir it controls, where armed groups are fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan.

[source_without_link]Agence France-Presse[/source_without_link][source_without_link]