Srinagar: Six civilians were killed as an explosive device went off at an encounter site an hour after a gunfight between the militants and the security forces in Kashmir, the police said. The incident took place at the Laroo village in Kulgam area, around 70 km south of Srinagar after an encounter in which three militants were killed.
In subsequent protests over the killings, the forces fired bullets and pellets at the protesters wounding 20 persons. Mainstream political parties have accused the security forces of carrying out “ferocious bombardment of civilian houses in Kashmir” during the encounters. There are allegations that the Army has used highly improvised ammunitions and rockets during the encounter.
“Terrible news coming out from Kulgam. May the deceased find place in Jannat. Alienating the people in the fight against militancy is a sure fire recipe for losing the fight. How long can we go on ignoring the ground realities & living in denial about how bad things are in Kashmir?,” former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.
Kashmir Bar Association condemned the killings and alleged that security forces are “restarting operation to kill innocent civilians in Kashmir.” Meanwhile, the separatists have called for a strike on Monday against the killings. Advisor to the Governor, Vijay Kumar, and the DGP J&K, Dilbagh Singh, have regretted the loss of civilian lives due to the blast after the operation was over. Both Kumar and the DGP have asked such sites should be avoided by civilians till they are properly sanitised.
According to a police spokesman, three militants, who were associated with Jaish Muhammad militant outfit, were killed in an encounter with the Army and the police in Laroo area of Kulgam on Sunday morning. On Saturday night, security forces had cordoned off the area after having information about presence of the militants. Early Sunday morning the encounter broke out between the holed up militants and the forces. Three militants were killed in the encounter. The forces then left the place after taking the militants’ bodies along.
According to an eyewitness, Muneeb-ul-Islam, who is a freelance photojournalist, the encounter ended around 10:30 a.m. and soon people started assembling at the encounter site. Muneeb said that there was a loud blast at about 11:30 and with it flash of fire emerged from debris of the house, which was damaged in the encounter. “I rushed toward the spot where the blast took place. I saw injured persons scattered all around. I saw a person with no hands. One person’s chest bones were visible. Blood was oozing from another person’s head,” he said. For two minutes there were around four persons including two photojournalists near the wounded as others, after the blast, had rushed towards safer places. “We started shouting. And within two minutes, people came back and they took the wounded to the hospital,” said Muneeb.
In the Kulgam district hospital three persons were declared brought dead, another person died on way to Srinagar. Later two more succumbed to injuries taking the toll to six.
The police spokesman said some explosive substance went off when people were at the debris at the encounter site.
The forces had left the encounter site without any thorough search for explosives which is mandatory under the Standard Operating Procedure. As news about the killings spread in the area, people resorted to stone throwing. In retaliation, the forces fired pellets and bullets wounding around 20 persons, sources said.
According to human rights groups, nearly 100 people, including 80 children, had died owing to such ‘leftover explosions’ since 2002.
In 2011 the then government had asked the police, army, and paramilitary forces to draft a standard operating procedure for “avoiding the loss of human life after IEDs remain undetected owing to non-clearance of debris at encounter sites”. The government had instructed all deputy commissioners and the police to sensitize the people to the risk of “visiting encounter sites before the debris is cleared”.
The police, however, blame the non-cooperation of the villagers for these deaths. As per the procedure, the forces should clear the encounter area from the explosives within 24 hours of the operation.