By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
Kashmiri villagers gather near the coffins of three villagers killed in an alleged fake gun battle by security forces before their funerals in Nadihal, about 70 km north of Srinagar May 29, 2010.
NEW DELHI: Kashmir is in news again. The people here are outraged at three youth being killed in a fake encounter by the Army on April 30. Three days after Muhammad Shafi (19), Shezad Ahmad (25) and Riyaz Ahmad (19) went missing from Nadihal Rafiabad in Baramulla district, Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), the Indian Army claimed to have killed three â€œterrorists attempting to cross Line of Control (LoC) in wee hours in Machil sector in frontier district of north Kashmir.â€ The youth, killed after a â€œgunfight,â€ possessed five AK rifles and a pistol, according to the Army. The bodies were handed by the Army to Kalaroos police post the same day. The police took their photographs and asked the residents to bury them at the local graveyard.
The families of the youth filed a missing persons report in Panzla police station, under Sopore district on May 10. When the families saw photographs of alleged militants killed in April 30 encounter, they asked for the bodies to be exhumed. The bodies were exhumed last Friday (May 28), a month after the youth had been killed. The families identified them. The three had been shot at pointblank range in the head, police said. The police, apparently, had become suspicious of Armyâ€™s role on the latter having claimed recovery of five AK rifles from three individuals. Besides, the Army also wanted the police to record the â€œencounterâ€ as a joint operation. The police, however, recorded it as an Army operation.
The youth had last been reportedly seen in the company of Bashir Ahmad Lone, a former Special Police Officer (SPO), said to be working with the Army. There are reports of his having lured the youth with promises of jobs. Lone handed them to the Army camp at Kalaroos, where they were killed. During interrogation, after being arrested by police, Lone revealed that the encounter had been staged by Territorial Army soldier Abbas Shah and former SPO Abdul Hamid Bhat, sources said. The J&K police have filed a case of murder and kidnapping against the Army.
Thousands of agitated mourners staged a protest march with bodies of youth in Rafiabad area of Baramulla district on Saturday (May 29). The people shouted slogans demanding strict action against the ones involved in murder of the three individuals. The mourners had originally planned a protest march till the district headquarters. They were stalled by the police near Chakla, which led to clashes, in which several persons were injured. As the protestors shouted slogans, the police fired rubber bullets and teargas shells and also caned a few protestors. Later, shouting slogans, the protestors buried the bodies in Nadihal.
A report prepared by J&K police names Major Opinder for having lured three villagers for money to stage the encounter. Opinder worked in intelligence wing of Army in Baramulla. Subsequently, the Army ordered a high-level inquiry into the â€œfake encounter.â€ â€œBased on the preliminary report of the Machil encounter, received from Jammu and Kashmir Police late evening on May 29, a high-level inquiry has been ordered by the Army. We will judiciously expedite the proceedings as promised,â€ defense spokesman Lt. Col. J. S. Brar said (May 30).
Strict action will be taken against whoever found of guilty in the alleged fake encounter case, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said. â€œWith the Kashmir government already enquiring into the fake encounter case, we will cooperate in the probe. The Army is also enquiring seriously. Nobody will be spared. There is no question of a cover up. Weâ€™ll take action against anyone found guilty,â€ Antony said (May 29).
A probe into the â€œencounterâ€ has also been ordered by J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
Describing the fake encounter as an â€œeye-openerâ€ to what Kashmiris are still suffering from, former J&K Chief Minister and Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said: â€œI think government of India has to take action after this incident, a major incident. It should be an eye opener to the Prime Minister of what is happening on the ground.â€ The Prime Minister should take action against those responsible for the fake encounter, he said. â€œThe Chief Minister as the head of unified command canâ€™t escape his responsibilities in this organized racket,â€ he stated. The Machil incident has raised questions on probability of similar fake encounters taking place. â€œWho knows there may be many more such incidents? The fake encounter at Machil raises many questions, casting doubt on the entire range of encounters,â€ the PDP leader said.
Meanwhile, chairman of Hurriyat conference Syed Ali Shah Geelani has asked United Nations and Amnesty International to look into the â€œfake encounter.â€ â€œWe appeal to the UN secretary general to help in getting the matter investigated by the War Crime Tribunal,â€ Geelani said in a statement from a police station in Srinagar. Describing the probe ordered by state government as â€œbiased,â€ he said: â€œNo independent inquiry has been conducted in similar cases earlier.â€
While Kashmiri Muslims have been complaining for quite some time about being deliberately targeted as â€œsuspect militantsâ€ in â€œfake encounters,â€ the Indian media has recently started giving greater importance to their side of these incidents. The Kashmiri Muslims have also been agitated at their being â€œlabeledâ€ as â€œmilitantsâ€ even though the number of Kashmiri Muslims killed in terrorist operations is understood to be many times more than that of Kashmiri Pandits. A large racket of â€œfake encountersâ€ for the sake of rewards and medals is suspected to prevail in sensitive areas of the state. There is believed to be a link in around 400 unidentified suspect militants being buried near LoC and reports of missing persons having been filed in northern Kashmir in the recent past. Investigations are reported to be taking place to expose this racket of fake encounters!