A mortar and gun battle between Indian and Pakistani forces along their Kashmir frontier killed five civilians Wednesday, taking the death toll in the six-day confrontation to 16, officials said.
At least 80,000 people from dozens of villages along the 200-km (125-mile) border between the Jammu region in Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan’s Punjab province have fled their homes since Friday, an Indian government official said.
“Some have gone to their relatives and for others we are arranging shelter, food and water,” local divisional officer Hemant Kumar Sharma told AFP.
Indian authorities have closed all schools within five kilometers of the border and government forces used armored vehicles to evacuate panicked residents who left behind homes and cattle. Each family has left behind a male member to guard their home and cattle, according to the New Indian Express.
The Indian and Pakistan militaries held talks this week but failed to calm one of the deadliest flare-ups this year.
“Five residents have died in the cross border shelling so far,” Sharma said. Indian Kashmir’s director general of police, Shesh Paul Vaid, had earlier said that 30 were wounded overnight in Pakistani firing.
Soon after taking off on Wednesday morning, an Indian Air Force helicopter crash-landed in Natha Top. The helicopter was on a routine sortie around Jammu and Kashmir, NDTV reported. There were no injuries.
On Tuesday an Indian soldier and an eight-month-old baby were killed.
Another nine people – four Indian and four Pakistani civilians including three children as well as an Indian Border Security Force soldier – died on the first day of hostilities, just before a visit to Kashmir by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. A further 22 were injured.
“People are helping each other to flee. Police are also helping in evacuating vulnerable border residents,” Vaid said.
Another police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, described the flare-up as a “war-like situation” in the affected districts of Samba, R.S Pura, Akhnoor and Arnia.
The flare-up came after India suspended military operations against Kashmir rebels for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Pakistan Rangers and Indian Border Security Force officers spoke by telephone on Monday. The rival militaries often accuse each other of initiating battles in violation of a 2003 border ceasefire.
The border where the clashes broke out is not disputed between the two nations, even though both lay claim to all of Kashmir.
The Himalayan territory has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947, but there are regular frontier skirmishes that have left hundreds dead along the nearly 930-kilometer (580-mile) border, most of which is disputed.
India has about 500,000 soldiers in the part of Kashmir it controls, where scores of armed groups are fighting for independence or a merger with Pakistan.
With reporting from AFP