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Civilians Bear With Border Hostility

June 1, 2002

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HAJEERA, Pakistan (AP) _ Sitting outside her mud house Friday, 28-year-old Nasreen Sardar looks into the distance with tears in her eyes. Shells fired from a mountain in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir killed her husband just two days earlier.

On the Indian side of the Line of Control, Ghulam Nabi remained huddled with his family inside a bunker in a school in Dras, where most of the 3,000 residents have already fled.

Civilians are bearing the brunt of cross-border hostilities in the disputed Himalayan region at the heart of the India-Pakistan conflict. Dozens have been killed in recent weeks and thousands more have fled the ongoing artillery and mortar fire.

With 1 million troops massed on the border from both sides since a December attack on India’s parliament that New Delhi blames on Pakistani-based militants, the Kashmir region remains tense as the death toll mounts daily.

On Friday, that included an Indian border guard killed by Pakistani shelling in Sangral Post, about 200 miles south of Srinagar, police said.

In Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, shelling and gunfire killed one person in an area called Pukhlian, according to an army spokesman.

In Hajeera, where six people were six people were killed Wednesday, Sardar’s mother-in-law, Noor Bibi, 60, wailed and cursed Indian soldiers for killing her son, Mohammed Sardar.

``My son was just a laborer. ... I don’t know why they killed him,″ Bibi told foreign correspondents taken to Hajeera by military chopper to view the aftermath. Hajeera is less than six miles from the Line of Control.

Dozens of people gathered outside her home, holding up signs promising to ``fight shoulder-to-shoulder″ with the Pakistan army if India attacks.

``We are ready for every kind of sacrifice,″ said Karam Dad, Mohammed Sardar’s father. ``I am ready to sacrifice my other two sons, too.″

Sardar Mohammed Anwar Khan, president of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, told reporters after that the visit, ``We have all means to teach an unforgettable lesson to India, but we hope better sense will prevail and Indians will agree to hold talks.″

Khan’s comments came a day after Pakistan said it was withdrawing troops from its Afghan border, and considering reinforcement of its Kashmir border as the military crisis with India continues.

In Hajeera, Field Commander Brig. Mumtaz Bajwa claimed that Pakistan’s forces ``always target the enemy’s gun positions, though they are constantly hitting our civilians.″

On the Indian side, residents say the constant cross-border shelling and small-arms fire has been indiscriminate.

``The sky has been raining fire for the past two days. My children cried through the night,″ said Nabi, one of 150 residents who decided to remain in Dras, 95 miles north of Srinagar.

The town’s low mud-and-stone homes are mostly deserted, with empty shells, shrapnel and craters dotting the streets. Authorities have closed schools and more than 240 families have taken shelter in canvas tents outside of the town.

The current situation is worse, many say, than a similar India-Pakistan confrontation three years ago among the icy peaks of India’s Kargil sector of Kashmir.

``We are tired of war,″ said Jama Dedi, 52, as he and his family made their way to a nearby government-run shelter. ``We have to flee our homes, leaving behind crops and cattle. We can’t afford this perpetual destruction.″

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