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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Pakistani villagers flee border area
Tractor carrying people
Fears of war are driving local people out


Families living in Pakistan's border villages - between Punjab province and Jammu in India - are fleeing in large numbers, saying it is too dangerous to stay where they are.

They say they hope they will not have to stay away too long - but do not know how long it will be.


It is explosive - it can start any time

Brigadier Imtiyaz Ayub
Mohammed Ershad and his family are among those leaving, with their possessions piled high on a tractor trailer which Mohammed is driving.

"We are moving to some other place - but we are determined to fight the Indians and we don't mind moving to another place," he says.

In a deserted village just 400 metres from the front line, the soldiers are standing guard outside a former shrine - their guns are stacked up inside - and they have their telecommunications equipment with them.

Behind them is a high sandbagged wall and look-out posts and across the grassy plains lies Jammu in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Escalation

The man in charge of operations here, Major Tariq, says that until a week ago - the fighting had been very low level.

Pakistani look-out
Looking across at the Indian positiions
Inevitably, he blamed the Indians for the escalation.

"Since Friday they resorted to deliberate firing on civilian villages in this vicinity - the last village we are coming from that was hit was four kilometres from the border so that cannot be a mistake - it is by intent."

Major Tariq took us through a large metal gate to look at one of the houses close to the military post which he said was hit last week.

Only the four walls remained - the rest was burnt out.

There is no way of telling if it was deliberate - or if those responsible were aiming for the soldiers.

Civilian losses

An elderly farmer, Mohammed Babu, says the Indians fired mortars and artillery shells at the house - his daughter was killed and three of his grandchildren were injured and taken to hospital.

Woman
Civilians do not know when they can come back
Everyone left the village, but he came back to check on his cow which was left behind.

It was hard for civilians to talk freely as our trip was closely supervised by the military.

There was no shelling while we were there and the soldiers seemed fairly relaxed.

But the overall commander, Brigadier Imtiyaz, Ayub, said the situation was still potentially dangerous.

"It is explosive - it can start any time," he says.

"Someone has to up the ante and it will start - and India will do that if they want to and it suits them."

Many observers are suggesting that military operations are not imminent. But the troops in these areas look well dug in - and determined to stay put.

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See also:

25 May 02 | South Asia
23 May 02 | South Asia
23 May 02 | South Asia
23 May 02 | Media reports
22 May 02 | South Asia
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