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India evacuates thousands living in border villages

CHAK BAKSH: A day after claiming to have carried out ‘surgical strikes’ in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), India evacuated over 10,000 people living near the border with Pakistan in Indian Punjab on Friday and ordered security forces to upgrade surveillance along the frontier.

Hundreds of villages were being cleared along a 15 kilometre strip in held Kashmir. Authorities in India’s northern Punjab state said they were evacuating villages within 10km of the border.

“Our top priority is to move women and children to government buildings, guest houses and marriage halls,” said Nirmal Singh, deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

“People who have not been able to migrate were instructed not to venture out of their houses early in the morning or late in the night.”

India on Thursday allegedly carried out surgical strikes on “terror launch pads along the Line of Control (LoC)” in AJK, a claim which the Pakistani military swiftly rubbished, saying its two soldiers died in cross-border firing by Indian troops.

An Indian soldier was captured during the incident, and at least eight Indian soldiers were killed in a “befitting response” by Pakistani troops, security sources said.

The latest incident of cross-border firing comes as tensions simmer between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir issue.

Last week, India initiated a diplomatic drive to isolate Pakistan after blaming it for the Sept 18 attack on the Uri army camp in IHK which killed 18 soldiers ─ a claim which Pakistan has rejected.

Tensions between the South Asian rivals have been high since an Indian crackdown on dissent in India-held Kashmir (IHK) following the killing by Indian forces of Burhan Wani, a young separatist leader, in July.

Larger-scale evacuations were organised in Punjab state, which neighbours Kashmir, where thousands of people were being moved away from the heavily secured border.

Images from the state showed people piling bedding and cooking equipment onto trailers and cramming into crowded buses as security forces stood guard.

The Punjab government said it was setting up special camps for evacuees in the area.

Jaswant Kaur said people in his village of Chak Allah Baksh in Punjab had been told to leave their homes.

“Of course it’s not a nice feeling to leave your home, crops, cattle and everything else behind,” the 55-year-old told AFP.

“Living here means we are always on the edge. We are really distressed.”

Farmer Rakesh Singh, 56, who lives in the Arnia sector of Jammu, said his family were among the first to leave home because his village was near the border. “We suffer the most,” he said.

“It is nothing new for us.”

Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area wait for the bus as they  evacuate from the border village of Neshta, about 35 kms from Amritsar on September 29, 2016. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area wait for the bus as they evacuate from the border village of Neshta, about 35 kms from Amritsar on September 29, 2016. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area carry luggage as they leave their border village near Mahawa. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area carry luggage as they leave their border village near Mahawa. — AFP
Indian Punjab police personnel stand guard at Attari Railway Station, about 35 kms from Amritsar. — AFP
Indian Punjab police personnel stand guard at Attari Railway Station, about 35 kms from Amritsar. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area ride on a tractor as they evacuate from a border village near Dauke. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area ride on a tractor as they evacuate from a border village near Dauke. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area board the bus as they evacuate from the border village of Neshta. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area board the bus as they evacuate from the border village of Neshta. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area ride on a tractor as they evacuate from a border village near Mahawa. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area ride on a tractor as they evacuate from a border village near Mahawa. — AFP
Elderly Indian villager, Teeja Kaur takes a rest on a bed at the border village Dauke. — AFP
Elderly Indian villager, Teeja Kaur takes a rest on a bed at the border village Dauke. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area evacuate from a border village about 35 kms from Amritsar. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area evacuate from a border village about 35 kms from Amritsar. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area ride on a tractor as they evacuate from a border village near Dauke. — AFP
Indian villagers from the India-Pakistan border area ride on a tractor as they evacuate from a border village near Dauke. — AFP

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