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India, Pakistan trade blame as border shootings, shelling in disputed Kashmir kill 5 civilians

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ISLAMABAD — India and Pakistan traded blame on Thursday for a series of firefights and shelling over the past two days along their border in the disputed Kashmir region that killed five civilians and wounded nine people.

On Thursday, four civilians were killed and five were wounded in artillery fire that struck Pakistani villages near the eastern city of Sialkot, and Islamabad said the archrival neighbor was responsible for the casualties.

India's paramilitary Border Security Force, meanwhile, blamed Pakistan for shooting at an Indian border post and for firing mortar shells that landed in a border village on Wednesday, killing one woman and wounding four people, including a soldier at a border post.

Pakistan also claimed that an Indian spy drone had violated its airspace Wednesday and that the Pakistani military shot it down. India's army rejected that allegation, saying none of its drones "crossed into the Pakistani side."

"None of our unmanned aerial vehicles has been shot down by them," said Col. S.D. Goswami, an Indian army spokesman.

A senior officer of India's Border Security Force said skirmishes between the two sides continued on Thursday morning and that Indian troops only responded to "safeguard Indian villagers" from Pakistani mortar shells. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy.

On Thursday, both Islamabad and New Delhi summoned each other's diplomatic envoys in protest of the latest exchanges. Pakistan also denounced the alleged violation of its airspace.

India's Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar on Thursday insisted that all firefights and mortar shelling over the past two days were initiated by Pakistani troops. He told reporters the type of drone Pakistan claimed it had downed was not of Indian design or part of India's arsenal.

The latest exchange of fire came despite a meeting of the two countries' prime ministers last week on the sidelines of a summit in Russia in an effort to ease tensions.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over competing claims to Kashmir. A 2003 cease-fire has largely held despite small but regular skirmishes, which the two sides routinely blame on one another.

While the highly militarized line of control in Kashmir is guarded by the armies of India and Pakistan, each country keeps a separate paramilitary border force guarding their lower-altitude frontier defined by coils of razor wire that snake across foothills populated by ancient villages, tangled bushes and fields of rice and corn.


Associated Press reporter Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar, India, and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.

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