Internet Services Suspended in Poonch-Rajouri Sector Following Massive Search Operation, Valley Protest against Killing of Three Civilians
NEW DELHI, Dec 23: The ripples of the killing of three civilians allegedly by the security forces reverberated in the Kashmir valley even as a massive search operation was undertaken to track down the militants behind the recent ambush of two army vehicles that left five India soldiers dead in the Poonch-Rajouri sector.
Three men, aged between 27 and 42, were found dead under “mysterious circumstances” on Friday and their relatives and political leaders alleged that they were among the eight people picked up by the Army for questioning in connection with Thursday’s ambush. They also alleged that four others were admitted to a government hospital with “torture injuries.”
The PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti alleged that the Army had picked up locals for questioning and “the tortured bodies of three of those people” had been found near the encounter site. She further alleged that 12 others from Topa Pir village in Bafliaz were admitted to a hospital at Surankote after being tortured.
On the deaths of the three civilians, the J&K administration said “medico-legal formalities were conducted and legal action in this matter has been initiated by the appropriate authority.” “Government has announced compensation for each of the deceased. Further, the government has announced compassionate appointments to the next of kin of each deceased,” the administration said.
The bodies of the civilians were laid to rest at their ancestral graveyard in Bafliaz Saturday afternoon, the officials said. As the search operation was underway and the situation remained tense, the authorities suspended mobile Internet services in Poonch and neighbouring Rajouri district as a precautionary measure to check rumour-mongering and prevent any law and order problem, officials said.
Five soldiers were killed and two injured when heavily armed terrorists ambushed two Army vehicles at a blind curve at Dhatyar Morh between Dhera Ki Gali and Bafliaz on Thursday. The ambush took place when the security personnel were moving to an ongoing search operation in the general area of Dhera Ki Gali in the Thanamandi-Surankote region.
Soon after the ambush, security forces launched a massive search operation in the densely forested areas, also covering nearby Thanamandi in Rajouri, but there was no fresh contact with the fleeing terrorists so far, officials said. Sound of firing was heard deep inside a forest in Dhera Ki Gali area Saturday afternoon but the security agencies later clarified that security forces resorted to speculative firing to check a natural cave.
Sources said the bodies of three slain civilians — Safeer Hussain (43), Mohd Showket (27) and Shabir Ahmad (32) of Topa Peer village of Bafliaz — were handed over to their families after a post-mortem Saturday morning. “All the three were innocent civilians and died of torture in the custody of the Army,” Mohd Sadiq, a relative of one of the deceased, said.
He said they have performed the last rites of the deceased on the assurance of Poonch Deputy Commissioner Choudhary Mohd Yasin and Senior Superintendent of Police Vinay Kumar, who remained present in the village throughout the day. “They have assured us action…we want justice for the deceased. We want registration of FIR against the Army unit and adequate compensation along with a government job to the next of kin,” he said.
Sadiq, a panchayat member, said he had informed senior police and civil officers about the random arrests and torture but nobody paid any heed. “Five more persons are reportedly injured and are still in the custody of Army,” he said. Sources, however, said four persons — Mohd Zulfkar, his brother Mohd Betab, Fazal Hussain and Mohd Farooq — were admitted to the Government Medical College Hospital in Rajouri with alleged torture injuries.
Jammu Divisional Commissioner Ramesh Kumar and Inspector General of Police Anand Jain are also camping in Poonch and are monitoring the situation, the officials said. Additional police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed in sensitive pockets of the districts to maintain peace.
Meanwhile, senior CPI(M) leader M.Y. Tarigami also expressed grief over the death of three civilians and demanded an impartial probe into the circumstances leading to their death. He said the death of soldiers in a terror attack is “most unfortunate” but the loss of three civilian lives is equally disturbing. “Such unfortunate incidents should not happen. A fair probe to fix the responsibility is needed to book the culprits under law,” he said.
A BJP leader said the Jammu and Kashmir administration’s prompt action in providing compensation and jobs to the kin of the deceased civilians demonstrates its commitment to address the concerns of affected families. The ongoing search operation and suspension of mobile Internet services reflect the authorities’ commitment to ensuring security and restoring peace in the region, he said.
Mehbooba Mufti attacked the Centre for its claims of peace and normalcy in J&K, stating that “Rajouri-Poonch is an area which has never supported violence or militancy (but) over the last two or three years, we are witnessing militancy in these areas as well.”
The National Conference, led by party general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar, held a protest in Srinagar. “I would like to request the government, on behalf of the people of J&K, that a probe should be set up to investigate why these civilians have been killed. This is the only way to keep the peace and sustain it. Otherwise the situation will get worse,” he said.
The J&K Apni Party also held protests in Srinagar, seeking a probe into the deaths.
Mufti also hit out at the BJP stating that “despite turning J&K into an open prison, despite arrests of hundreds of youth, dismissing and pressuring employees, journalists, religious leaders, and despite making the lives of people of J&K, especially Kashmir, miserable, high ranking officials have been killed in Rajouri-Poonch” over the last couple of years.
“Had this happened under any other government, the godi media would have raised questions. They picked up 15 people from their homes who were tortured. Three of them have already been killed. So, how is this ‘Khushal Kashmir’ or ‘Naya Kashmir’ where neither Armymen nor common people are safe?” she asked.
The “main reason” for such incidents taking place is that “the forces think that they can get away with fake encounters”, she said, adding: “Like it happened in Amshipora (Shopian) fake encounter, where an Army court awarded punishment, but a civilian court overturned that decision. I think that message has gone to the forces that they can get away with whatever they do.”