Zafar Malik/Agencies

SIALKOT/New Delhi - Pakistani and Indian border guards traded artillery fire along the disputed border region of Kashmir, killing four people and wounding eight, officials said Saturday.

Both Pakistan and India blamed each other for starting the fire that began Friday night. This latest violence comes after Islamabad blamed Indian forces for killing two of its soldiers called for meeting Wednesday.

In a statement Saturday, the Pakistani military said that Indian forces violated the ceasefire agreement between the two countries with an unprovoked barrage of artillery Friday night near the city of Sialkot, killing a 13-year-old girl and wounding another child. It said Pakistani soldiers returned fire.

The senior officials of the Chenab Rangers in Sialkot told that the Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) continued heavy shelling on border villages in Zafarwal and Shakargarh sectors of Sialkot Working Boundary on Saturday. The ‘unprovoked’ heavy shelling of the BSF affected villages including Chak Nehala, Jagwal, Dhunder, Sakmaal, Bheka Chak, Nugal and Gor Pagwal. The Rangers retaliated effectively and gave befitting reply to the Indian BSF, the officials added.

The Indian troops had been shelling these areas almost the whole of last night (the night between Friday and Saturday). In fact, it was the fourth consecutive day of Indian BSF shelling on Sialkot border villages. In village Bheka Chak-Shakargarh, 8-year-old Mursileen, son of Muhammad Aslam, was injured seriously when some mortar shells hit his house. He was admitted to Sialkot CMH, where his condition was stated to be critical.

In village Chak Nehala-Zafarwal, a mortar shell hit a house killing on the spot 16-year-old 9th grade student Sumera Bibi, who was doing ablution for Fajar prayers when she was hit. Talking to the newsmen after her burial, martyred girl’s father Manzur Ahmed and her other family members strongly condemned the Indian shelling on civilian population.

The grieved family urged the government to take up the issue of firing on civilian population by the Indians to all the international forums, including the UN and International Court of Justice (ICJ). The grieved family was of the view that the world should take urgent notice of continuing Indian aggression and its gross violations of the ceasefire agreement along the 193-KM-long Sialkot Working Boundary.

This BSF shelling badly damaged dozens of the houses in these villages, besides damaging several cattle sheds. Some villager told that several heavy mortar shells also fell in the fields which could not explode and they pose a constant threat to human and animal life.

On the other hand, Indian police officer Rajesh Kumar alleged that Pakistani shelling in the Kathua sector killed a woman and wounded seven villagers. D Parekh, a Border Security Force officer, said the firing continued Saturday in at least half a dozen places. “One place goes quiet, the firing starts at another place,” Parekh said.

An Indian military official said Pakistani troops fired at also Indian positions in the Tangdhar sector, killing two Indian soldiers late Friday night. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to journalists. Shantamanu, a top Indian official who uses one name, said authorities evacuated 800 people from several border villages to state-run relief camps Saturday because of the firing. Another 700 people also fled, he said.

Chenab Rangers Sector Commander Brig Waseem said that the BSF was targeting the innocent people in border villages along the Sialkot Working Boundary. The Indians especially never miss firing at the civilians on eve of every religious festival in Pakistan. Talking to newsmen he denied Indian allegations that Pakistani soldiers too intentionally target Indian civilians.

“Chenab Rangers are better professionals and more committed to human right laws than the Indian Border Security Forces (BSF), as they were not targeting the Indian civilian population”, he said. “But unfortunately, on every religious festival in Pakistan, the Indian BSF target civilian population in Sialkot border villages”, he added.

Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan. The two countries have fought two wars over the Himalayan region since they won independence from Britain in 1947. While minor skirmishes between Indian and Pakistani troops are common along the 200-kilometer (125-mile) border, the worst violation of the ceasefire accord took place in October over the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and killed nine civilians in Pakistan and nine in India. The BSF started the New Year by brutally assassinating two personnel of the Chenab Rangers at Zero Line near Shakargarh sector near Sialkot.