Countering the Army’s assertion that four men killed in firing in Shopian on Sunday were militant “over ground workers”, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti condoled their deaths and described them as “civilians caught in the crossfire”.
“Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s families,” Mehbooba posted on her Twitter account Monday. Following the Chief Minister’s statement, the Army said that four of those killed were civilians who were accompanying militants.
Deeply distressed by more deaths of civilians caught in the crossfire in Shopian. My heartfelt condolences to the deceased’s families.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) March 5, 2018
“There is a thin line between civilian and OGW. We don’t have to be overly concerned about it. They were definitely civilians and it is a matter of investigation as to what extent they were involved in supporting terrorists,” said Brigadier Harbir Singh of 12 Sector Rashtriya Rifles (RR).
On Monday, two more bodies, of a militant and a civilian, were recovered from near the encounter site, taking the toll in the shootout to six. The civilian’s body was found in his car, a few hundred metres from the site, while the militant’s body was recovered from an orchard several kilometres away, said police.
The joint separatist leadership had called for a valley-wide shut down Monday following the incident and has called for a march to Shopian on Wednesday. Schools and offices remained shut, with the state government saying that educational institutions will remain close till March 7.
The Jammu and Kashmir Board of School Education has postponed all the exams scheduled for March 6 and 7. “All the schools of Kashmir Division shall remain closed on March 6 and 7 and the scheduled papers for biannual examinations of 10th and 12th classes in the division are also postponed,” a statement said.
On Sunday, the Army had said that a militant and three OGWs were killed when militants opened fire on a checkpost after they were asked to stop. Local residents and family members of those killed have maintained that the victims were civilians.
Commanding Officer, 44 RR, D S Negi, said the youths were accompanying a militant in two vehicles, which did not stop despite repeated orders.
“Instead, they opened heavy fire on our party. In the retaliation, one terrorist was killed. He fell down from the vehicle, which travelled some distance and veered off the road. The second vehicle moved ahead. Later, we found that three persons in the vehicle had died. They were travelling with the terrorist,” he said.
J&K Police said they were investigating the incident. “They were accompanying the militant. Their level of involvement is a subject of investigation,” said IG (Kashmir) S P Pani.
Challenging the Army and police claims, Abdul Rashid Lone, father of 23-year-old Gowhar Ahmad Lone who was among those killed, said, “We found his body inside the vehicle but there was no blood inside. He was hit on the back but there was no bullet in the back of the car seat.” Lone alleged that his son may have been dragged out of the car and killed.
Meanwhile, the opposition National Conference demanded that Chief Minister make public details of the incident and the circumstances leading to it.
“The varying accounts from the Chief Minister and the security forces on the incident are unfortunate and further perpetuate the sense of disenchantment, distrust and alienation,” said former chief minister Omar Abdullah.
“The Chief Minister has termed the deceased as civilians and it is hence incumbent upon her to take stringent legal action based on the information she has as Home Minister of the state,” he said.
The Jammu and Kashmir RTI movement registered a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission condemning the death of four youths. “After each and every brutal and inhuman killing of innocents, the state has been ordering probes and inquiries yielding no results and bringing not a single culprit to justice,” the complaint said.