May 1999 News

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After Kargil, Drass comes under Pakistani Fire

14 May 1999
Rediff
By: Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar

Hundreds of people fled the small, sleepy town of Drass on the Srinagar-Leh highway in Jammu and Kashmir early Friday morning, following heavy shelling from Pakistan.

Meanwhile, firing along the Line of Control in Kargil continued for the fifth day. The India army was retaliating. This is the first time that Pakistan is shelling Drass. A senior police officer told Rediff On The NeT on phone from Kargil that Drass and adjoining areas including Trongan, Baris, Goshan and Bambat came under attack soon after midnight, causing panicked residents to spill out of their houses andflee.

The shelling was still continuing, said the officer, who described the situation as 'highly volatile'.

"The residents have taken shelter on the banks of River Mushko, 10 to 12 km from Drass. They are not safe there, it is well within shelling range," he said, "After Kargil the nearly 10,000 people of Drass are in trouble."

The Drass-Kargil highway has been closed to civilian traffic. Only army vehicles are now allowed to move. Kargil, for its part, resembles a ghost town. The majority of residents have fled to Sanku, a village 40 km away. The current series of shelling has so far killed one civilian and injured four.

Highly places sources in Srinagar said that Pakistani troops had also targeted a strategic bridge connecting Ladakh with the Kashmir valley. The Iqbal bridge was shelled on Thursday.

A defence ministry spokesman, meanwhile, refused to comment on the situation in Kargil. The Kashmiri press had reported Friday that the trouble in Kargil had erupted after Pakistani troops tried to capture two Indian posts at Batalak village, overlooking the highway to Kargil, about 40 km away.

Reports also claimed that a group of infiltrators had tried to sneak into Kargil during the shelling and was intercepted by the army.

Kashmir Divisional Commissioner Mushtaq Ahmad Ganaei said the residents who had stayed behind in Kargil have been advised not to come out of underground bunkers.

The government and the residents had last year constructed over 900 bunkers.Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah, presently on a visit to London, is rushing back. He is expected in Srinagar Saturday.

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