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Tuesday, June 15, 1999 Published at 18:53 GMT 19:53 UK

World: South Asia

Thousands displaced by Kashmir fighting

Villagers in Punjab have been evacuating the border

By the BBC's Charles Sanctuary

Concern is growing over the number of people who have fled the fighting between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control, in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Kashmir Conflict
Upwards of 70,000 people have left their homes in areas of Kashmir administered by India and Pakistan, following the escalation in artillery and mortar fire across the line.

Many displaced people have taken refuge with relatives away from the conflict zones, but there has been little humanitarian assistance for those fleeing the fighting.

Officials in Pakistan-administered Kashmir estimate over 40,000 people have fled their homes as a result of the fighting, which they say has killed 50 Pakistani civilians over the past six weeks.

Living in makeshift camps

[ image: Children at a makeshift camp in Pakistan]
Children at a makeshift camp in Pakistan
Large numbers of people from areas around Bhimbar - 150 km south of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani administered Kashmir - have abandoned their houses after intensive shelling.

So too have civilians from the areas north of Muzaffarabad. Many are staying with relatives in nearby villages and those who cannot are billeted in schools, government offices or temporary makeshift camps.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

A senior minister in Pakistan administered Kashmir, Ishaq Zaffar, has appealed for people to stay in their towns and villages and build what he called defensive positions.

However, many residents only return to their homes during daylight and leave again when shelling becomes more intense at night.

Few families have moved away from their homes on the thinly populated Pakistan side of the Line of Control in the Kargil area where India is fighting to remove militants it says have crossed the line from Pakistan.

Heavy displacement in India

[ image: There has been little assistance for the refugees]
There has been little assistance for the refugees
It is on the Indian side, in the Kargil, Drass and Batalik sectors, where there has been the most displacement - more than 20,000 people are estimated to have fled.

Many families are living with relatives, in the towns of Sanku, Minji Gund and Leh but, as yet, there has been little assistance for the less fortunate.

As in Pakistan administered Kashmir, the army has evacuated only a handful of villages - most people have chosen to leave despite offers in some areas by security forces to build underground bunkers.

It is not only Kargil, however, that has seen a large exodus of people - areas along the southern end of the Line of Control have also been severely affected.

No official figures have been released but it is estimated over 10,000 people have abandoned around thirty villages, in frontier areas near the town of Rajouri.

In the bigger towns to the north, Uri and Poonch, most residents, accustomed to exchanges of fire across the line, have remained in their homes.

According to reports in the Indian media, the number of people fleeing the area may be growing. Reports say villagers close to the border with Pakistan in northern areas of the Punjab and the state of Rajasthan are leaving with fears that an escalation of the conflict is imminent.

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