Thousands Rally In Kashmir Anti-army Protest
30 November 2004
Srinagar: Thousands of people shouting slogans for freedom protested in Indian Kashmir on Tuesday against the killing of a 55-year-old man by soldiers during a search operation, police and witnesses said. It was the second time in two days that protesters have taken to the streets in the strife-torn Himalayan region to demonstrate against alleged abuses by troops trying to quell a 15-year-old Muslim separatist revolt. In new violence, rebels lobbed a grenade on Tuesday in a crowded street in Srinagar, Kashmir's main city, wounding five people including two soldiers. The latest protest saw around 3,000 people come out in Hakpura village in north Kashmir, witnesses said, after soldiers fired on villagers during a routine search-and-cordon operation. 'For the last three days, they (troops) have cracked down on our village and have been asking residents if there is a militant hiding here,' 45-year Abdul Ahad Dar, a witness in Hakpura, told Reuters over telephone. 'When we argued with them, they opened fire on us.' Police said that a villager was shot dead by soldiers and three others wounded in the firing on Tuesday morning. The army said panicky troops fired after villagers pelted them with stones and tried to snatch a rifle from a soldier. 'Three soldiers were also wounded in the clash and one of them was stabbed by villagers. We are investigating the incident,' an army officer said. Protesters in Hakpura, including children, shouted 'Down with security forces' and 'We want freedom,' as police stood guard. RISING ANGER AGAINST TROOPS On Monday, hundreds of people protested in Budgam district, west of Srinagar, saying soldiers had shot dead two civilian men in a village. The army denied the charge and said they were killed in crossfire during a battle with guerrillas. Relations between Kashmiris and the army have been particularly strained in recent weeks after residents of India's only Muslim- majority state alleged an army major had raped a woman and her 10- year-old daughter on November 9. The officer has been suspended from duty and the army is investigating the allegations. On Monday, India's home (interior) ministry said in a statement that troops in Kashmir should make an extra effort to stop abuses and warned of strict action against offenders. New Delhi has begun to pull out a small number of its over 400,000 troops in Kashmir, citing a fall in incursions from neighbouring Pakistan and a sharp drop in guerrilla attacks. But violence in Kashmir has continued, though at a reduced level, despite a cautious peace process between India and Pakistan which have fought two of their three wars over the area.