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Pakistan-India gunbattle leaves five dead in Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India, May 18, 2018 (BSS/AFP) - A Pakistan-India cross-border gunbattle Friday left four civilians and an Indian soldier dead, police said, a day ahead of a visit to disputed Kashmir by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The exchange of heavy firing along a rare stretch of the Kashmir border that they do not argue over also left 12 people wounded, the Indian-administered region's director general of police Shesh Paul Vaid told AFP.

The two sides started exchanging fire on Wednesday in the RS Pura district of Indian Kashmir, near its border with Pakistan's Punjab province.

But the battle reached its peak on Friday morning when India rushed armoured vehicles to the zone to evacuate scores of residents, said a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Four border residents and a Border Security Force soldier were killed in the Pakistani firing," said Vaid.

The deaths came three days after India suspended military operations against rebels in Kashmir for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that began Thursday.

Officially there has been a ceasefire on the Kashmir border since 2003.

But there are regular frontier skirmishes and gunfights between rebels and government forces this year have already left 72 militants, 33 civilians and 30 Indian security forces dead.

Kashmir has been divided between the arch-rivals since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim the former Himalayan kingdom in full.

India has about 500,000 soldiers in the part of Kashmir it controls. Security has been cranked up across the restive region ahead of Modi's two-day visit beginning Saturday.

The prime minister is to inaugurate a hydropower station near the disputed border with Pakistan.

He is also to open road projects including a tunnel to the Ladakh tourist region, more than 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) above sea level, which is mainly cut off in winter.