26,000 villagers flee PoK as Indo-Pak border tension mounts
7 January 2002
The Hindustan Times
Muzaffarabad: More than 26,000 people have fled from villages in Pakistani Kashmir and the number may rise to 100,000 if India-Pakistan tensions fail to subside, officials said Monday. In southern Bhimbher district, about 14,500 villagers have left their homes near the heavily militarised border in the last week alone, said Rehabilitation Commissioner, Khwaja Mohammad Sadiq Dar. The flat topography of Bhimbher has sparked fears that it if war breaks out, it will be a prime target for Indian forces in position across the Line of Control which divides the disputed state. Dar said another 6,028 people had been displaced in Muzaffarabad district, 2,600 in Kotli, 1,900 in Bagh and 1,700 in Poonch as fears rose that the two nuclear-capable rivals would wage war on each other. The commission said that if the situation did not soon return to normal, the number of refugees could soar as high as 100,000. Local authorities have vacated office buildings and educational institutions in order to house the evacuees who had nowhere else to go. ''Since the displacements are temporary, we are encouraging the evacuees to stay with their relatives, and return home when the situation becomes normal,'' he said. ''We have 3,000 tents and we have asked the Pakistan government to provide that many again to us,'' he said. Tensions between India and Pakistan have soared since the December 13 attack on New Delhi''s parliament which India blames on Pakistan-based Kashmiri militant groups. Both nations have massed their armies at the border, while the international community has made frantic efforts to defuse the brewing crisis.