June 1998 News

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250 Border Villagers of Poonch District Cross over to PoK

17th June 1998

JAMMU: In addition to increased militancy and unprovoked firing by Pakistan troops from across the border, the Jammu and Kashmir Government now has a new problem to contend with -- migration by villagers living near the Line of Control (LoC) to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

In an exodus that began last fortnight, more than 250 persons of the minority community, including women and children, have crossed over to PoK from villages in the border district of Poonch. The largest group of 220 villagers reportedly migrated from Dehri Debsi in the district early this month.

While no other incident of relocation by such a large number of villagers had come to the notice of the authorities, migration from border areas of Poonch district to the other side of the Line of Control is still on. Most of these villagers were living in the state since 1947, valiantly staying through the three Indo-Pak wars.

Perturbed officials have taken up the matter with the Army authorities. The General OfficerCommanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the Northern Command, Lt General S Padmanabhan, said at a recent press conference that the authorities were looking into the matter. Sources said the state government and the Army authorities were worried that the migrating villagers would act as guides for militants waiting to enter the state from across the LoC. Being locals, the villagers are familiar with the topography of the Pir Panjal range as well as the deployment of Army troops in those areas.

A senior police official attributed the migration to various factors, saying the people were "caught between the devil and the deep sea" with militants and security forces stepping up operations and unprovoked firing by Pakistan troops frequently disturbing normal life.

Of the total 178 villages in Poonch district, five are uninhabited, their residents having been evacuated from near the LoC and sent to safer places by the government. Fifty-one of the remaining 173 villages either fall right on the LoC or within thefive-km border belt where a dusk-to-dawn curfew has been clamped by the administration.

However, nearly 15 villages situated near the LoC in the district are more vulnerable and living there more risky due to frequent small and medium arms fire by Pakistani troops.

The district administration has cranked up the official machinery to dissuade other villagers from crossing the border. Deputy Commissioner of Poonch M S Khan visited various border areas in the district last week for an on-the-spot review of ongoing development works. Khan listened to the grievances of the local people and even suspended a number of officials, including some from the health and education departments, for staying away from work.


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