Residents Flee Border Village Amid Heavy Fire

With Pakistani artillery shells flying overhead or exploding nearby, most of the 3,000 residents of the Indian village of Dras fled through the freezing Himalayan winds to seek shelter.

"The sky has been raining fire for the past two days. My children cried through the night," said Ghulam Nabi as he huddled with his family in a bunker in a school in Dras, in the far north of India's portion of divided Kashmir. A bonfire kept them warm.

Six civilians were killed here and nearby areas over the past two days, an army officer said Thursday on condition of anonymity.

Low mud and stone homes are mostly deserted, with empty shells, shrapnel and craters dotting the streets of Dras, located 95 miles north of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu-Kashmir state. Sporadic shelling was still taking place Friday.

Authorities have closed schools and more than 240 families have taken shelter in canvas tents in a village near Dras, which is 18,000 feet above sea level.

Pakistan and India have amassed 1 million troops in the disputed Kashmir region and their armies have been trading artillery and mortar fire for nearly two weeks.

Fearing war and falling shells, people on both sides of the cease-fire line dividing Kashmir have fled their homes. Both India and Pakistan claim the divided Himalayan region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

Nabi and Mohammad Abbas are among just 150 Dras residents who stayed behind.

Abbas was working to keep the phone lines operating.

"I also get frightened, but then life is in God's hands," he said.

Nabi and Abbas said they had barely recovered from a similar India-Pakistan confrontation three years ago, when hundreds of Pakistani soldiers and suspected Islamic militants occupied icy peaks in India's Kargil sector of Kashmir.

Indian and Pakistani armies shelled each other's positions and Indian warplanes bombed the hide-outs of the intruders. The situation finally was defused under U.S. pressure and the intruders returned to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

The current situation is worse, many say.

"There is more intense shelling this time than in 1999," Nabi said. "Most villagers have fled because they have seen nothing like this before."

"We are tired of war," said Jama Dedi, 52, as he and his family made their way to a nearby government-run shelter. "We have to flee our homes, leaving behind crops and cattle. We can't afford this perpetual destruction."