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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rafiabad tense as soldier ‘guns down’ civilian

MoS Home, DGP, Corps Commander douse the flames; Inquiries ordered

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

SRINAGAR, Feb 11: On the anniversary of the execution of Kashmir’s separatist icon and JKLF founder Maqbool Bhat, troops have allegedly gunned down a youth in Rafiabad area of Baramulla district. Even as senior Police and Army officials and Minister of State for Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, visited the village, apologized to the bereaved family and ordered three separate inquiries, Rafiabad was reportedly tense over the civilian killing that came after a long pause of calm but could generate a fresh demand of revocation of J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Informed sources in North Kashmir told Early Times that last evening troops from D-company of Rashtriya Rifles 32 Bn, alongwith a Police party, moved from their camp at Tragpora and laid cordon around village Lysar. According to Army officials, who approached Police, troops had received ‘specific information’ regarding presence of some militants in the village.

In the very beginning of the cordon-and-search operation, a heated exchange took place between a soldier and retired Assistant Sub Inspector Ghulam Mohammad Rather. During this exchange, ASI’s nephew, 25-year-old Ashiq Hussain Rather S/o Mohammad Akbar Rather, came down from his room at first floor of the house from sidewall staircase. Suddenly a bullet hit him straight at his heart and the youth died on spot. The shootout raised commotion in the village and scores of residents gathered to protest and mourn the youth’s killing. They alleged that troops fired and killed the civilian in cold blood during a minor scuffle between a soldier, two of the youth’s brothers and his uncle.

Troops withdrew the cordon but hundreds of people gathered and began shouting pro-Azadi and anti-India slogans with the demand that the Army camp be shifted from the area and the “guilty” soldiers be disarmed, arrested, prosecuted and punished under law.

As tension began building up, SP Sopore Imtiyaz Hussain Mir, Sub Divisional Magistrate of Sopore, Mohammad Ahsan Mir, SDPO and SHO of Police Station Dangiwacha reached the spot at midnight and made sustained efforts to pacify the crowds. However, the angry mobs persisted with the protest. In the forenoon today, nearly a thousand-strong crowd blocked Baramulla-Langet Road outside Lysar village. They placed the dead body on the road, shouted slogans and conveyed to Police that they would not go for funeral until a murder case was registered and the “guilty” soldiers were taken into custody. Under instructions from top echelons of the state government, Police filed FIR No: 6 of 2012 under section 302 of RPC (murder) against the accused company of Rashtriya Rifles 32 Bn.

Police and the demonstrators clashed for a while as some people pelted stones and Police retaliated with tearsmoke and baton charge. Sources said that four civilians and five Police personnel sustained minor injuries in the clash. Police confirmed that five constables were hurt but maintained that none of the demonstrators was injured.

The demonstrators maintained allegation that troops had killed Ashiq, who worked as a labour at Fruit Mandi in Sopore, in cold blood. However, officers of Rashtriya Rifles insisted that the youth had died in “accidental fire”. They projected their claim with the argument that in case of a scuffle or shootout, bursts or multiple single shots would have been fired. Police confirmed that there was evidence of “just one single shot”. Police further said that FIR had been filed on the statement of the residents and the real picture would emerge only after a thorough investigation and ballistic analysis.

With the tension refusing to die down and independent MLA of Langet, Engineer Rashid shouting slogans “RR Tunnel Paar” and “Hisaab dau hisaab dau, khoon ka hisaab dau”, alongwith the demonstrators, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, flying from Jammu to Srinagar, deployed senior government functionaries for reaching out to the bereaved family and the angry residents. Being in Saudi Arabia on Umra, NC’s Rafiabad MLA and Minister of State for R&B, Javed Ahmad Dar, was not available. Consequently, MOS Home, Nasir Aslam Wani, flew to Watirgam alongwith Director General of Police, Kuldeep Khoda, and IGP Kashmir, Shiv Murari Sahai. At Watirgam, they were also joined by GOC of Srinagar-based 15 Corps, Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain.

Sources said that MoS Home Wani, alongwith senior Police and Army officials, interacted with members of the bereaved family and other residents and pacified them with the assurance that Army, Police and an executive magistrate would conduct three inquiries simultaneously. Anybody found guilty, they assured the gathering, would be arrested, prosecuted and punished under law and service conduct rules of Army. Thereafter, the crowds relented and they conducted the funeral of the ill-fated youth at Lysar. Over 500 people of Lysar, Hadipora and Watirgam participated in the funeral prayers.

Today’s incident of firing happened after months of calm in Rafiabad and other areas in Kashmir. Death of the youth in the disputed shootout came ironically on the anniversary of JKLF leader Maqbool Bhat’s execution when Kashmir valley observed near-total shutdown on the call of separatist leaders. Traffic, however, operated in almost all districts. The civilian killing is likely to generate fresh demand of revocation of AFSPA among the Valley’s political parties.

Reacting to allegations of killing by the soldier, Defence spokesman at headquarters 15th Corps issued the following statement:
“General Officer Commanding 15 Corps along with Minister of State (Home), Jammu and Kashmir Mr Nazir Aslam Wani, DG Police, General Officer Commanding Kilo Force and IG Kashmir visited the area of incident which lead to the death of an innocent young man in village Laser, North Kashmir on night of 10 Feb 2012.  Initial investigation of the incident revealed that on the basis of intelligence which indicated presence of terrorists in the village a column of 32 Rashtriya Rifles established a cordon near a group of houses.  The presence of the Army created some panic in a house which led to an accidental discharge of a weapon in the hands of an Rashtriya Rifles soldier.  
The single bullet which was discharged hit one of the occupants of the house, Ashiq Hussian Rathar son of Muhammad Akbar, who expired on the spot.   The General Officer Commanding, Minister of State (Home), Jammu and Kashmir and the DGP met a delegation from the village and confirmed that the unfortunate death was by an accidental discharge of a weapon and consoled the family. They sympathized with the family and while paying their condolences assured them of all compensation, including a job for a male member of the family. 
Attempts at escalation of the situation by some elements were defused by the timely visit of the high ranking Military, State and Police officials, admission of the innocence of the deceased and promise of necessary and timely compensation through ex gratia.  The General Officer Commanding confirmed the institution of a military Court of Inquiry while the Minister of State (Home), Jammu and Kashmir promised a parallel Magisterial Inquiry to confirm the chain of events and measures to prevent recurrence of such incidents”.

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