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Friday, June 18, 1999 Published at 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK

World: South Asia

Thousands flee Kashmir fighting

Two Kashmiri women build a bunker in Drass

At least 30,000 people on the Pakistani side of Kashmir's disputed border have been forced to flee by heavy shelling, according to the Red Cross.

Kashmir Conflict
Both India and Pakistan are firing thousands of artillery rounds over the Line of Control every day, causing residents on both sides to leave their homes.

On the Indian side, correspondents estimate more than 20,000 have fled.

The intensification of the fighting comes as India tries to dislodge what it describes as Pakistani-backed infiltrators from its side of the border.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says at least 30,000 have fled from the Pakistani side, and that figure may rise.

[ image: Thousands have fled the shelling]
Thousands have fled the shelling
An estimated 80% of the displaced are living with friends or relatives. Around 20% are being provided with food and shelter by the Pakistani Government and local charities.

Pakistani officials say if people are unable to return to their homes when winter sets in it might be necessary for the government to construct camps for people to stay in.

Pakistan says since the conflict intensified last month, 45 civilians on the Pakistani side of the line have been killed, and 95 have been injured.

Hopes for diplomacy

India is hoping members of the G8 leading industrial nations meeting on Friday in Cologne will help diffuse the escalating tension.

The BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones: "Villagers on both sides of the line of control have been leaving their homes"
India maintains it is fighting Pakistan-backed infiltrators who have occupied strategic heights on their side of the Line of Control.

The Pakistani Government says the men are freedom fighters and maintains that it offered them only moral support.

India has been encouraged by President Clinton's call, earlier in the week, for Pakistan to urge the infiltrators to withdraw. India now wants the G8 to issue a similar statement and put Pakistan under international pressure.

Mr Clinton's statement drew sharp criticism in Pakistan, with many viewing it as a shift in US policy towards Kashmir.

Evidence displayed

[ image: Jaswant Singh: Playing down threat of war]
Jaswant Singh: Playing down threat of war
On Thursday, the BBC's correspondent in Srinagar said Indian army officials showed reporters weapons with Pakistani markings. They were recovered from the infiltrators after fierce fighting.

A senior officer of the Indian Army, Brigadier Ashok Chopra, told the reporters that Indian troops had advanced close to militant positions but were still inside the Indian side of the Line of Control.

(Click here to see a map of the area)

Pakistan has accused India of a heavy build-up along the border and denied Indian claims of Pakistani naval movement.

BBC Correspondent David Willis reports on the latest move from Delhi
On Thursday, India's navy chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, said the Indian navy had been placed on alert after Pakistan made strategic deployments in the Arabian Sea.

Officials said India had moved some ships earlier this week from their usual stations in the Bay of Bengal to areas off the west coast, bordering Pakistan.

But Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh played down fears of all-out war.

"I do not foresee a large-scale war," he told foreign correspondents. But he also said he did not see signs of the infiltrators withdrawing.

"The simplest way to de-escalate is to reverse the intrusion. If they withdraw, it is de-escalation. At present, I do not see any glimpse of that," Mr Singh said.

[ image:  ]

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