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India-Pakistan fighting kills 9 civilians, 3 militants

SRINAGAR India (Reuters) - Nine civilians were killed and at least 25 wounded on Monday in fighting along a stretch of the disputed border between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir region, the heaviest toll since India called off a round of peace talks last month.

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The Himalayan region of Kashmir has been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since they became independent in 1947. They have fought three wars and came close to a fourth in 2001 and there have been regular clashes along the de facto border, known as the Line of Control (LoC), in the area.

Pakistani forces shelled the village of Arnia about three km (two miles) from the border in the early hours of Monday, killing five and wounding at least two dozen civilians, according to Rakesh Kumar, an inspector general of the Indian border security forces.

Authorities in Pakistan said Pakistani Rangers had effectively responded to Indian fire. India’s Border Security Forces (BSF) killed four Pakistani civilians, including two children and a woman.

The attacks coincided with the Eid al-Adha festival, celebrated by Muslims in both countries.

Another Indian officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Brijesh Panday, said the army later shot dead three Pakistani–based militants trying to cross into India further along the heavily militarized LoC. Two militants escaped back to Pakistan, he said.

Muslim separatists have been fighting Indian forces in India’s part of Kashmir since 1989. Pakistan rejects Indian accusations that it trains and arms the rebels in the part of Kashmir it controls and sends them to the Indian side.

The latest round of mortar and gunfire began on Friday, when Pakistan’s army said it responded to “unprovoked firing” from the Indian side.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said the army would retaliate to the latest violence.

“Let everybody be assured that our armed forces, our paramilitary forces are fully ready and they are responding to each of these provocations,” Jaitley said.

Pakistan’s army separately attacked 10 Indian army posts along the LoC, according to Indian army officials in Kashmir. Gunfire continued between the two sides in those areas on Monday, they said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised many observers by inviting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration in May. But relations have soured since Modi called off talks last month.

Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Robert Birsel