Thousands Of Kashmiris Mourn Rebels Killed In Mosque
4 November 2004
Khellen: In an unusual display of support for separatist guerrillas, more than 6,000 people marched in the streets of Indian Kashmir on Thursday, shouting slogans to mourn the death of rebels killed during a mosque siege. Authorities said it was the first time in 18 months that so many people turned out for a funeral, held a day after Indian soldiers shot dead five militants holed up in the mosque. Security forces do not normally release dead militants to relatives as the authorities prefer to bury them, but police handed over the bodies to avoid trouble after hundreds of villagers gathered to demand their return. 'They gave their precious lives and achieved martyrdom for a better future for us, they are our heroes,' said Mohammad Rajab, 65, a resident of Khellen. Khellen is in the district of Pulwama, about 45 km (30 miles) south of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, where Muslim separatist guerrillas have been waging a bloody battle against Indian rule since 1989. Women and children wailed and beat their chests as the bodies were laid out in a paddy field surrounded by huge crimson- leaved chinar and poplar trees. Following Kashmiri custom, some schoolgirls dropped candies on the bodies. More than 6,000 mourners chanted 'We want freedom', 'Allah-ho-Akbar' (God is great) and 'Indian forces go back', as they marched behind pall bearers carrying the bodies shrouded in white. Police said three of the dead rebels were Pakistani nationals who belonged to the outlawed militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, based in Pakistan. The other two were Kashmiri members of Hizbul Mujahideen, the largest militant outfit in the disputed region. But the five men killed on Wednesday were known to be operating in the area for the last six years and there was a lot of sympathy for them, a Pulwama police officer told Reuters. He said hundreds of villagers gathered outside the local police station on Thursday demanding the bodies be handed over to them and police gave in to their demands to avoid trouble. Indian authorities say rebel violence has abated in the disputed Himalayan region this year and fewer militants are crossing over from the Pakistani side. The decline coincides with a peace process launched by India and Pakistan in 2003 to resolve a wide range of disputes, including Kashmir, which lies at the heart of half a century of enmity between the South Asian neighbours.