December 2003 News

Militants forcing children to take up guns

29 December 2003
The Daily Excelsior
Daily Excelsior Correspondent

RAJOURI: For 11-year-old Muzaffar Iqbal, it was a rebirth after he was rescued by the Army during a recent counter-insurgency operation in Poonch. One of the many child soldiers recruited by the militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir to act as guides and to carry out sorties, Iqbal could have been just another terrorist killed on the heights of Pir Panjal when Army’s Poonch Brigade intercepted a group of terrorists in the second week of December. During the encounter which lasted for four days amid rain, the Army killed seven terrorists. But to their surprise, they found the terrified young boy in the Nanglai forests trying to hide from the forces. Trembling with fear, Iqbal surrendered with raised hands. Army sources said that recently they had intercepted a wireless message of the terrorists which revealed that the commander of a terrorist outfit in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir had directed his subordinates to recruit locals. This alerted the security agencies which kept a tab on the messages. A group of terrorists was stopped in the Nanglai forests which led to the spotting of Iqbal. Security forces said the militant groups in the State have been recruiting locals who are used as guides and also for carrying sorties. Iqbal was forcibly recruited early this year when terrorists kidnapped a group of boys. The security forces have rescued some of them during the operations but many others are still missing. During June last, ten boys were rescued by the security forces in the Doda district. Earlier, two boys were rescued during the hill Kaka operations in Poonch. They were natives of Rajouri district. The tales of these child soldiers are akin to the ones recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka and militia groups in the African countries. Iqbal, who hails from the Pagai village of Thanna Mandi tehsil in Rajouri district, was returning from school in February this year when five terrorists stopped him and asked him to accompany them. He was given Rs 500 and promised more. When he refused, they assaulted him warning of dire consequences. Iqbal had no other option but to join them. He was taken to various hideouts. 'I trekked on snow-clad Pir Panjal hills for days and arrived at a place where several others like me were being trained in guerilla warfare,' Iqbal said. 'We were also used as guides and made to carry sorties ... And we were not aware of the bigger game plan of the militants,' he said. Today, Iqbal’s parents are relieved that their son has escaped the jaws of death. This has ended Abdul Ghani’s ordeal of searching for his son in the hills. 'I met the commanders of various terrorists’ outfits in June but they refused to say whether they had taken my son,' Mr Ghani said. 'It is a new life for my son. I pray to the almighty that the rest of the children are also found,' he said. The families of around 150 such missing people in Poonch and 80 missing from Rajouri are waiting for such miracles to happen. 'We hope that the ceasefire holds good and recent peace moves by both India and Pakistan yield positive results ... This would restore normalcy in the State,' Mr Ghani added. (UNI)


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