Five people were killed in cross-border fire between India and Pakistan, officials said Thursday, amid heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals since New Delhi controversially stripped contested Kashmir of its autonomy.
Skirmishes are frequent across the so-called Line of Control (LoC), but the latest deaths came after Pakistan warned it was ready to meet any Indian aggression over Kashmir.
Officials in the part of Kashmir ruled by Pakistan said Thursday that three soldiers died in Indian shelling across the Line of Control, the de facto border, and two others were killed in a separate incident.
The Pakistani military also claimed its return fire killed five Indian soldiers. But an Indian army spokesman told the Press Trust of India late Thursday the deaths were “fictitious”.
Another Indian military official told the news agency Pakistani troops fired mortar shells and small arms across the border.
The clashes came as diplomats told AFP the United Nations Security Council was scheduled to discuss India’s move to strip Kashmir of its autonomy at a meeting behind closed doors on Friday.
Pakistan earlier this week formally asked the Security Council to hold an emergency session to address the situation.
Earlier Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed his “pathbreaking” move to strip Kashmir of its autonomy during a major speech at Independence Day celebrations.
Parts of Kashmir that India controls — it is split with arch-rival Pakistan — have been under lockdown since August 4, with freedom of movement restricted and phones and the internet cut.
A day later, New Delhi scrapped Article 370 in the Indian constitution that had granted Kashmir special autonomy, splitting the state of Jammu and Kashmir in two and downgrading their status to union territories.
In a speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in Delhi, Modi said “fresh thinking” was needed after seven decades of failure to ensure harmony in the picturesque but tragic former Himalayan kingdom, where tens of thousands have died in the past 30 years.
“We do not believe in creating problems or prolonging them. In less than 70 days of the new government, Article 370 has become history. And in both houses of parliament, two-thirds of the members supported this step,” said Modi, 68.