January 2000 News

Kashmir town gutted in Army, militant firefight

11 January 2000
The Asian Age
Special Correspondent

SRINAGAR: Part of Kashmir's historic town of Pattan, situated along the Srinagar-Baramulla highway, was razed to the ground in devastating fires which broke out on Monday evening following a sneak attack on an Army patrol by Islamic militants. Two soldiers were killed in action.

While the authorities here maintain that the line of shops, houses and other buildings caught fire during a firefight between militants and troops, the residents alleged that these were torched by soldiers in reprisal for the killing of two colleagues.

Senior police and administration officials rushed to Pattan from district headquarters in Baramulla and from Srinagar. A large number of Pattan residents moved out of the town to escape violence, and those left behind held protest demonstrations, blaming the soldiers for the devastation.

Witnesses said that militants shot at two soldiers while they, along with some others, were shopping in the main town bazaar at about 5.30 pm. The residents alleged that the soldiers, from the 3 J&K Light Infantry camped at nearby Hamray village, retaliated to the surprise militant attack by opening fire indiscriminately, resulting in bullet injuries to shopkeeper Gulam Ahmed Laloo, taxi driver Abdur Rehman Mattoo and bus driver Jasbir Singh. They said the soldiers continued shooting till 11 pm and were joined by members of the state police's Special Operations Group and that the two then started torching shops and other buildings.

When firefighting personnel tried to extinguish the flames, they too were attacked by the soldiers, the residents alleged. The police said three pedestrians and six fire-fighters sustained bullet wounds in the exchange of fire, while the body of Western Ahmed Butt, 12, was found lying near the debris of smouldering buildings on Tuesday morning. It is believed in Pattan that the boy died of heart failure but the police said he was caught in a burning building and died of suffocation. Twelve buildings, comprising 42 shops and five residential houses, were gutted.

However, a defence handout issued said it was the encounter between militants and soldiers which resulted in the death. "The terrorists chose the marketplace to open fire so that the troops could be provoked to retaliate and cause collateral damage and casualties to civilians, which will show the security forces in bad light," it asserts.


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