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‘Protests at encounter sites dangerous, worrying trend’

Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat Wednesday said that those who “obstruct our operations during encounters and are not supportive will be treated as overground workers of terrorists”.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar |
Updated: February 17, 2017 5:44:54 pm
kashmir, kashmir unrest, border firing, LoC firing, kashmir protest, J&K police, bipin rawat, kashmir terrorism, civilian protest, burhan wani killing, burhan wani protest, militant help, kashmir militants, indian express news, india news Army chief Gen Bipin Rawat. (Source: PTI)

The swelling number of civilian protesters at encounter sites during gunfights between militants and forces has become the latest headache for security agencies in Valley.

While Jammu and Kashmir police concede that the protests are coming in the way of their operations, Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat Wednesday said that those who “obstruct our operations during encounters and are not supportive will be treated as overground workers of terrorists”.

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The trend of civilian protests, aimed at helping militants escape during encounters with security forces, started in south Kashmir last year. It has now spread to other parts of the Valley, with people not only coming out in large numbers to attend funerals of militants but also trying to help them escape during encounters.

On Sunday morning, as a team of Army and J&K Police was fighting the militants at Frisal Kulgam, another group of policemen was preventing stone-pelting protesters from coming close to the encounter site to help militants escape.

Early morning on Tuesday, as the J&K Police, Army and paramilitary forces cordoned off the Hajin village in north Kashmir, a group of youth marched towards a house under scanner. Later that day, when police and Army engaged with militants in Handwara, people took to streets to help militants escape.

“It is a matter of serious concern for us…It has made it difficult for us to launch counter-insurgency operations. Now, we not only have to keep track of militants, but also keep a check on our own men to avoid civilian casualties,” said a senior police official involved with counter-insurgency operations.

Another police official added: “This is quite different from what used to happen during the early days of militancy. If there was an encounter then, people would run away from the encounter site. But today, youth march towards the encounter site to help militants escape even by putting their own lives in danger…This is a dangerous and worrying trend.”

After Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter, more than 80 local youths have reportedly joined militant ranks and the civilian protests at encounter sites have seen a steep rise. With the 2016 unrest fresh in their minds, police officials say they need to be cautious and avoid civilian casualties.

“These protests have made the situation difficult for us. During a counter-insurgency operation, our focus now often shifts to stopping civilian protests,” said the police official.

“Emotions during an encounter run high anyway. If there is a hot-headed soldier or policeman, it can result in casualties,” he added.

The J&K government has already banned the assembly of civilians near encounter sites and ordered imposition of Section 144 in a radius of two kilometres of the encounter site to prevent civilian protests.

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