SIALKOT/ISLAMABAD-  Two children and another civilian were killed along with a soldier in firing across the border between India and Pakistan, officials from both sides said yesterday, as tension between the nuclear-armed neighbours simmers.

The Pak Army said an 18-month-old girl and another civilian were killed on its side of the border in unprovoked firing by the Indian military.

“Due to Indian unprovoked firing last night a civilian, Muhammad Latif of village Janglora, and a minor Haniya, age one and a half, embraced shahadat (martyrdom) while seven civilians were injured," a military statement said.

The firing took place across the border between Indian-held Kashmir and Pakistan's Punjab province in the villages of Harpal, Pukhlian and Charwah, the statement said.

The deceased Pakistanis were Haniya and Muhammad Latif and the injured were named as Yasmeen Bibi (26), Razia Bibi (45), Babar Hussain (32), Muhammad Kaleem (30), Shakeela Bibi (28), Allah Ditta (35) and Muhammad Bashir (80).

They were shifted to the Sialkot Combined Military Hospital, where Yasmeen and Babar were in critical condition.

According to the locals, dozens of cattle were killed and injured by Indian shelling while houses, schools and fields were damaged seriously in Pakistan. Dud Indian mortar shells were also seen schools of Merajkey.

Indian police said the late night heavy exchange of firing occurred in its RS Pura sector, killing an Indian border security guard and a six-year-old boy. The Border Security Force (BSF) soldier died after he received splinters from a mortar shell fired by Pakistan Rangers, Danish Rana, inspector general of police for the area, told French newS agency AFP

"The boy and the BSF soldier died during the intense exchange of small arms fire and mortars throughout the night along the border," Rana said. Six other civilians were also injured during the exchange, said another Indian police officer speaking on condition of anonymity.

The people in Pakistani village of Chaprar said they spent sleepless night because of fire fear. Sialkot District Coordination Officer (DCO) Dr Asif Tufail said district administration has established three emergency medical and relief camps in the villages of Kundanpur, Phookaliyaan and Chaprar. Moreover, he maintained three Rescue 1122 ambulances were roaming across the affected villages. Almost all of the schools in the fire-hit remained closed yesterday.

Relations between the two countries have plummeted in recent months, with India blaming Pakistani militants for a raid on an army base in the Held Kashmir in September that killed 19 soldiers.

India later said it launched "surgical strikes" across the border in Pakistan on militant targets, prompting fury from Pakistan which denied the raids took place.

The overnight incident came days after Indian border security forces said they shot dead seven Pakistani soldiers in retaliation for a ceasefire violation, with Pakistan refuting the claims.

Muslim-majority Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed in full by both, since the two countries gained independence from Britain in 1947. The two neighbuors have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

Since 1989, several groups have been fighting Indian forces deployed in the region, seeking independence or a merger of the territory with Pakistan.

Ceasefire violation deplorable

Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry termed Indian firing deplorable and insisted India should rather "act pragmatically" in order to resolve bilateral issues, according to Pakistani APP news agency.

Talking to the media at the book-launch in Quaid-e-Azam University of Islamabad, the foreign secretary said Pakistan respected the 2003 ceasefire with India and never initiated firing. Aizaz Chaudhry said Pakistan had lodged its protest with India on the recent incident of unprovoked firing at diplomatic level.

He said Pakistan also expected that UNMOGIP (United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan) would soon submit its findings on the incidents with its headquarters. The foreign secretary said Kashmir was a long-standing item on Pakistan's agenda, to which it would continue to extend support. He said Pakistan expected from the United Nations to play its role in solution to Kashmir accordance with the resolutions of its Security Council.