ISLAMABAD, May 29 (Reuters) - Growing tension between India and Pakistan in Kashmir has forced hundreds of people to flee their homes in the last two weeks, officials said on Saturday.
They said the number of people fleeing the Neelum valley had increased in recent weeks due to constant Indian shelling over the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the disputed Himalayan region between India and Pakistan.
"Conditions on the LoC have been bad for the last 10 years but these days things are worse," said Ziauddin Tahir, a doctor who fled this week from a village in Athmaqam in the scenic valley, 200 kms (120 miles) northeast of Islamabad.
"Previously firing used to take place in the daytime only, but a few days ago firing started at midnight. This caused pandemonium and people ran away," he said.
Pakistani and Indian soldiers are almost eyeball-to-eyeball across the U.N.-monitored 720-km (450-mile) line that runs from east to west through the peaks and valleys of the Himalayas.
Pakistani military officials say up to 30,000 people live between Indian bunkers and Pakistani positions.
Though the present hot spot is the Kargil and Drass sector 200 km east of Neelum valley, residents in the valley say life is not safe because of the constant shelling.
Indian said its fighter jets struck along the line dividing Kashmir in Kargil and Drass for the fourth day on Saturday in a bid to flush out what it says are hundreds of Pakistani-backed infiltrators.
Indian army officials also said Indian and Pakistani
forces exchanged artillery fire across the tense boundary near Rajouri in the southern
part of India's Jammu and Kashmir state and that Pakistani forces had attempted to capture
a post there.
Firing in the Neelum valley has caused the residents to abandon their homes and seek refuge in forests farther away from the line, local officials said.
"I arrived today (Friday), there is regular firing over there. I walked away to save my life. There is no fixed time for firing, it can happen anytime, whenever India wants to," said a villager who arrived in Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir.
"The Indian army announces on loudspeakers that
you should leave the area and vacate your houses," he added.
Amir Khan, another resident in Neelum valley, said he escaped during the night because it was not safe to travel during the day. "We are so close to the border that even small arms fire can hit us," he said. "We stay up all night shaking with fear."