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Young men often provide support to militants by attacking the forces with stones
Young men often provide support to militants by attacking the forces with stones

Police asks youngsters to stop providing cover to armed militants

Three civilians were killed and 28 other people were injured in anti-government protests that erupted on Tuesday following a gunbattle between rebels and security forces that killed a rebel in Kashmir. The gunbattle began after police and soldiers cordoned off the southern town of Chadoora following a tip that at least one militant was hiding in a house, said Inspector-General Syed Javaid Mujtaba Gillani.

As the fighting raged, hundreds of residents chanting anti-India slogans marched near the area in an attempt to help the trapped rebel escape. Witnesses said intense clashes between rock-throwing protesters and government forces erupted just a few hundred meters (yards) from the besieged house, with police and paramilitary soldiers firing shotgun pellets and tear gas to stop the protest.

However, clashes spread to multiple places in the area.

Later, government forces fired into the crowd, killing three stone-pelters, including a teenager, and injuring at least 20 others, police said, adding that eight police and soldiers were also injured in the clashes. An army officer said one militant was killed in the fighting and one weapon recovered from the site. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with military regulations.

Local residents said troops blasted the house with explosives.

In Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, police stopped an ambulance and took custody of the body of a 23-year-old student killed in the protests. The man had been brought to a Srinagar hospital where doctors declared him dead. Police fired tear gas and swung batons after the dead man’s relatives pleaded that they be allowed to take the body to Chadoora area.

A police officer, speaking on a customary condition of anonymity, said the action was taken to avoid more protests in Chadoora and the body would be handed over to the relatives for burial later Tuesday.

In recent years, Kashmiris, mainly youths, have protected armed rebels by engaging troops in street clashes during military operations against the militants. Three key leaders, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik, said in a statement that the killings were “brazen state terrorism.”

Last month, the Indian army chief warned that “tough action” would be taken against stone throwers during counterinsurgency operations. But the anti-India protests and clashes have continued.

Now, Jammu and Kashmir police chief SP Vaid has said that the Pakistan ISI wastrying to instigate and provoke innocent young boys to come out from their houses and reach the site of exchange of fire in Kashmir Valley. Vaid met Union minister of state in PMO, Jitendra Singh in New Delhi yesterday and held a detailed discussion with him about the prevailing situation in Kashmir, in the aftermath of Tuesday’s violence which resulted in the death of three persons and injuries to others as well as to the security personnel.

“As per the inputs received, Pakistan ISI is trying to instigate and provoke innocent young boys to come out from their houses and reach the site of exchange of fire,” an official statement quoting the Director General of Police (DGP) said.

“There are also recorded messages indicating that as soon as an encounter begins, the Pakistan propaganda mill immediately gets into action,” the DGP said. Singh said that it is the responsibility of both the administration as well as the civil society to make the youth of Kashmir understand the reality.

“Time has come, for that the common youth of Kashmir should demand that if this so-called Jehad is so holy and great, then each of the separatist or Kashmir-centric leader should set an example by sending their own children to pelt stones and to stand in the line of fire during the counter-militancy operations,” he said.

Lauding the role of security forces including the army, paramilitary and Jammu and Kashmir police, Singh said, we have among the best forces in the world and the nation is eternally indebted to them.

Therefore, he said, none of us should say or do anything which tends to lower the morale of the forces.

Describing the stone pelting as a “mercenary” exercise, Singh lambasted the “so-called Kashmiri leaders who are sponsored by Pakistan and are separatist only by convenience”.

Denouncing the remarks of a former chief minister who is contesting Lok Sabha bypoll and using separatist rhetoric, Singh took a dig saying, “If he becomes a minister tomorrow, he will overnight turn a nationalist.”

It is “suicide” for young men to go to encounter sites, the Jammu and Kashmir police chief said today, referring to stone-throwing at security forces by locals during anti-terror operations and the recent death of three civilians in clashes in Budgam.

“Young boys should stay at homes and not come to encounter sites. The bullet does not see who is coming or who it will hit…,” warned Director General of Police SP Vaid.

He added, “Even security forces in an encounter take cover of a vehicle or house. Youths coming to encounter site are committing suicide.”

Three were killed and 17 injured in clashes with security forces at a time they were engaged in an operation against terrorists hiding inside a house in Budgam in central Kashmir.

The police say locals threw stones at personnel and tried to break a cordon about a kilometer from the encounter site, apparently to distract them. One terrorist was also killed in the encounter that ended about eight hours later.

“It is quite a grave provocation. We have been able to minimise collateral damage and civilian casualties but there has been a lot of provocation from other side, instigating young boys, misleading them to throw stones and reach the site of the encounter,” Mr Vaid said.

The state administration is worried about civilian deaths in encounters triggering protests of the sort witnessed last year against the use of pellet guns on mobs, leading to injuries and deaths and a cycle of violence.

An Army operation against militants in progress
An Army operation against militants in progress

Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had told a TV channel in an interview on Tuesday that parents should not let their children create obstacles for security forces. “It is very unfortunate that young boys come out when there is an encounter,” she said, adding that the administration was trying to make people aware “not to create obstacles when there is an encounter”.

Ms Mufti also appealed to parents to “try and keep your children away” from encounter sites as they were “full of danger because of firing from both sides”.