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Wednesday, May 26, 1999 Published at 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK


World: South Asia

Eyewitness: Under fire in Kargil

India says this army post was destroyed by Pakistani mortar

By Altaf Hussain in Kargil

The 100 kilometre long road to Kargil beyond the Kashmir valley looks like a border.

Indian artillery guns are deployed at many points along the road and they were fired as I drove by.

A family fleeing their house for safety told us 12 shells fired by Pakistani troops had fallen on their village on Wednesday morning.


[ image: Indian guns at the ready in Dras]
Indian guns at the ready in Dras
As we talked we could hear the Pakistani shells overhead. We saw Indian helicopters bringing the wounded soldiers to an army transit camp at Matayan.

Military convoys were moving on the highway carrying reinforcements from Srinagar - artillery as well as troops.

The route has been closed to civilian traffic for more than two weeks. Half a dozen taxis carrying journalists have been the only vehicles allowed along the highway since Tuesday.

We were asked to keep a distance of at least one kilometre between our cars to avoid high casualties in case a shell hit the road.

Cross-border shelling

The section of Dras along the highway was completely deserted, with only two families left behind.

The majority of people living in Kargil have fled too, but some were still around when we reached there on Tuesday.

They told us to watch out for shells flying over the town at night. And they did.


[ image:  ]
Kargil has been affected by cross-border shelling for the past three years. The authorities gave money to families to build undergound shelters, but the residents say they cannot keep their families, particularly children, confined to these shelters for days on end.

A government minister Kamar Ali Aqhoon says the experiment has failed.

Some of the people fleeing Dras and Kargil are living with their relatives in the predominantly Buddhist district of Leh.

But a Buddhist organisation there is reported to have approached the district authorities to move the refugees out.

This has caused resentment amongst the people of Kargil who are Muslims.

I saw posters on the walls denouncing the attitude of the Buddhist organisation.

Kargil is facing a shortage of essentials such as fresh vegetables and kerosene due to the suspension of civilian traffic along the Srinagar-Kargil highway. Mr Aqhoon said supplies are unlikely to be resumed before next month.

Returning from Kargil, I was in for a surprise as I entered the Kashmir valley.

A number of tourists from several Indian states were sipping drinks outside a cafe at Sonamarg, unaware of what was happening just 40 kilometres away on the other side of the Zojila pass.





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