MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - India and Pakistan traded accusations that each had killed civilians in cross-border shelling on Friday, as tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors continued to fester.
Three civilians, including a young girl, were killed as Indian troops shelled villages along the Line of Control in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on Friday, a Pakistani official said. Indian officials, meanwhile, said two civilians died when Pakistani shells hit India’s side of the contested border.
In addition, a statement released by the Indian army on Friday evening said that militants at the Line of Control mutilated the body of an Indian soldier they’d killed before crossing back into Pakistan.
They did so “supported by covering fire from Pakistan Army posts,” the statement said. “This act will invite an appropriate response.”
The reports of bloodshed came just a day after New Delhi and Islamabad announced on Thursday that each is expelling a diplomat from the other country. India accused the Pakistani diplomat of running a spy ring and Pakistan cited “deep concern” about the activities of the Indian diplomat.
Shelling by both sides in the divided and disputed Himalayan regions has been going on since gunmen killed 19 Indian soldiers in September at an army camp in Kashmir, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-based militants.
India-administered Kashmir has also been rocked by street protests which began after the July killing of a militant leader there. Indian officials have blamed Pakistan for fanning that unrest.
The facts on the ground are often difficult to ascertain, with accusations and statements from India or Pakistan quickly rebutted by the other.
For instance, Additional Director General Arun Kumar of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) said on Friday that the barrages unleashed by his troops in the past week in response to Pakistan aggression had been effective.
“Fifteen Pakistani soldiers have been killed in retaliatory firing and shelling by BSF. We have destroyed their OP (outposts) and damaged a few,” Kumar said.
A statement released by the Pakistani military’s press wing denied that was the case: “Indian claim of killing any Pakistani soldier at working boundary is absolutely baseless and untrue. Indian claim is part of their propaganda campaign aimed to hide their losses at working boundary and also divert world attention from Kashmir issue.”
Writing by Kay Johnson and Tom Lasseter; Editing by Richard Balmforth, Larry King