Thousands of Kashmiris have fled their homes amid rising tensions between Pakistan and India.
Shelling across the heavily militarised Line of Control which divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India sent many seeking shelter Wednesday.
At least 2,000 people left their homes near the unofficial border in the Kotli and Jhelum Valley districts in Azad Kashmir, and authorities closed all public schools, said officials. Other districts also saw an exodus. “More people are leaving their homes and moving to safer places,” said Umar Azam, a senior government official in Kotli. The internet was also cut in some zones near the frontier.
Women, men and children, loaded with cases and bags, could be seen on roads. Some pulled cattle or carried other animals.
Habib Ullah Awan, a 46-year-old grocery store owner in the nearby border village of Chakothi said shells were still falling when he left his home with eight members of his family early Wednesday.
“My house was not safe because of the shelling, God forbid, nothing will be left if a shell hits my house,” he told AFP.
Most people leaving Chakothi went to Muzaffarabad, the main city in Azad Kashmir, or to stay with relatives in other villages. Those with no family to house them went to the Hattian Bala camp set up by the local administration.
Mushtaq Ahmed said he was taking his wife and children to Muzaffarabad. “But I will come back, I can’t afford to leave my home and belongings unguarded,” he told AFP.
At Kamalkote, on the Indian side, residents said they had also faced heavy shelling. “We spent the night in total horror. Shells did not land in the village, but fighter jets are still flying above us,” said a man who gave his name as Tariq.
There was also heavy shelling at Poonch further south on the Line of Control. While no casualties were reported there, authorities have told villagers to prepare bunkers.
Some residents have also left villages. “It happens regularly,” said one at Poonch who declined to be named. “My relatives know my family will be arriving.”
Baseer Khan, a senior government official in Indian-administered Kashmir, said authorities are always prepared to evacuate border residents but no order to do so has yet been given.