In the other Balkote, fearful question: Stay or flee?https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-pakistan-tension-balkote-uri-border-villages-5603938/

In the other Balkote, fearful question: Stay or flee?

At border villages close to the Line of Control (LoC) here, surrounded by Army camps, this question swirled in the air as residents woke up to the sound of gunfire and shelling.

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Residents of Uri villages start moving out. (Shuaib Masoodi)

Around 10 am Wednesday, within range of Pakistani posts located on a hillock in the distance, a group of villagers in Balkote of North Kashmir’s Uri town confronted their worst fear, and a burning question: escape to a safe location or wait for an official call to evacuate?

“We are not sure… either way, we are caught in the middle of this war,” said Farooq Ahmad, an ex-Army man and local resident. “If we abandon our houses, we don’t know where to go. And if we leave the village, who will take care of our homes?” FOLLOW India-Pakistan LIVE News Updates

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At border villages close to the Line of Control (LoC) here, surrounded by Army camps, this question swirled in the air as residents woke up to the sound of gunfire and shelling. Hours later, fighter jets of India and Pakistan locked horns over the Jammu region.

On Tuesday, Balkote was at the centre of a brief buzz before it became clear that Indian jets had targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp in Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, deep inside Pakistani territory.

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“Since the Pulwama terror attack, we have not slept because everyone is scared that something will happen. We are the first victims and we are always the victims whenever there is cross-border shelling,” said Shabir Ahmad, 31, another Balkote resident.

At Silikote, one of the last villages that shares the LoC with Pakistan, residents have started leaving since morning. “I have sent my family to my relatives’ house in Uri. So far, the situation is peaceful in our village but we don’t know when the shells will land,” said a resident in the village with 20 households.

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Another resident of Balkote claims he received a call in the afternoon from the local Army camp, asking them to switch off the lights at night. “But everyone here feels that keeping the lights on during night means we will not be hit. We don’t want to risk our lives,” he said.

None of these villages have underground bunkers, say residents. They claim the bunkers were badly damaged in the 2005 earthquake and the government has since not made any effort to reconstruct them.

“My sons have served in the army. Aren’t we part of this country? Why is the government is not concerned about us?” asked Meera Begum, 70, in Balkote. “God doesn’t listen to our prayers, neither does the government. What should we do?”

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Riyaz Malik, Sub Divisional Magistrate, says an emergency control room has been set up in Uri. “All the facilities have been put in place. There was a ceasefire violation in Uri, but there was no damage or any loss of life,” he said.