SP Among 30 Injured In Clash Over Handwara Encounter
11 September 2007
The Daily Excelsior
Srinagar: Killing of a 20-year-old youth of Dangiwacha, Rafiabad, in a Police- Army operation at Sherhama, Handwara, on Monday has evoked violent reaction in Sopore-Baramulla belt as people of his residential village have disputed the official claim that Mohammad Ramzan Shah S-o Abdus Salam Shah was a militant. While people in Dangiwacha area claimed that Shah was a student and residents of Sherhama stated that he was among the two militants who clashed with Army and died, as many as 30 persons, including 8 Police personnel, sustained injuries in day-long ding-dong skirmishes at Watrigam, Rafiabad, today. According to informed sources in north Kashmir, hundreds of people gathered at Dangiwacha village and refused to accept Mohammad Ramzan Shah as a militant minutes after Handwara Police delivered the dead body for funeral last evening. Amid intermittent clashes with Dangiwacha Police, angry residents shouted slogans and alleged that Police and Army had killed 'an innocent student' and labeled him as a militant. They did not conduct the funeral and decided to stage a massive demonstration next morning. Sources said that over a thousand people carried Shah's body in a procession and placed it at the main road at Watrigam. For hours they shouted slogans against forces and blocked Baramulla-Handwara Road for traffic. Even as a thick Police bandobust reached the trouble spot and made unsuccessful attempts to disperse the crowds, the demonstrators insisted that incharge Police post Dangiwacha be placed under suspension for his last evening's baton charge on the people. They further demanded SP Handwara accept on cameras of television channels that Shah was a student, not a militant. When the demonstrators intensified their agitation and refused to relent, Police swung into action with baton charge and tearsmoke. The demonstrators resorted to heavy stone pelting on Police and the convoys of Army and BSF, causing damage to four vehicles. Eyewitnesses said that both BSF as well as Army observed restraint and did not use force in reaction to the mob's attack. They said that 22 demonstrators and 8 Police personnel, including SP Headquarters Baramulla Sheikh Junaid Mehmood, were injured in the ding-dong clashes. DIG north Kashmir, Dr B Srinivas, told EXCELSIOR that about a dozen Policemen and demonstrators had sustained injuries. He said that it was in the afternoon that the residents agreed to conduct the funeral and reports later said that Shah had been buried in his village of Shah Mohalla, Batsoo, in Dangiwacha area. DIG Srinivas said that Police had gathered conclusive evidence that Shah was 'an active militant' who died while fighting with troops of Rashtriya Rifles 30 Bn and Handwara Police at Sherhama, Mawar, Handwara. According to the reports available with the officials, Shah was a militant of Lashkar-e-Toiba who was simultaneously an undergraduation student with Degree College Sopore. Commenting over the Dangiwacha residents' claim that Shah had visited his maternal aunt when Army picked him up and got him killed in the gunbattle at Sherhama, Srinivas asserted that the youth had neither visited nor stayed at his aunt's house, which, according to him, was over 700 meters away from the site of encounter. DIG north Kashmir as well as SP Handwara, Dr Haseeb Mughal, said that the ill-fated Sherhama house-owner, 70-year-old Mohammad Maqbool Shah, appeared before Handwara Police and Chief Judicial Magistrate Handwara alongwith his daughter-in-law, Rozi W-o Bashir Ahmed Shah, and revealed the entire story about the gunbattle. Both, he said, testified that a long-haired Pakistani militant and Shah had reached Sherhama in a Tata-Sumo vehicle and began proceeding towards the nearby jungle. They retreated and forced their entry into Maqbool Shah's as they spotted a joint column of SOG and Army returning from the forest cover. Maqbool Shah and Rozi, according to DIG Srinivas, stated that they had beseeched the two gun-wielding militants not to hide in their house. According to them, all the family members and subsequently inhabitants of the locality deserted their houses and gathered at a school premises which made the Army- SOG patrol suspect that there was something amiss. In minutes, the Army-SOG party learned that two militants, one wielding an AK rifle and another a pistol and grenades, were hiding at Maqbool Shah's house. As they challenged the holed up militants to come out and surrender, their command met with a round of firing from the house, causing injuries to a soldier. It immediately triggered off a fierce gunbattle which lasted for 15 hours and left both the holed up militants dead. He said that one AK rifle, one pistol and 10 grenades were recovered alongwith the two dead bodies. One of the weapons carried an inscription of Lashkar-e-Toiba. Srinivas said that over 20 eyewitnesses had told Police that they noticed two militants taking on the Army. He said that the entire Sherhama-Handwara belt was calm and quiet as even the slain youth's aunt, living in the nearby locality of Teeli Mohalla, had told everybody that Shah used to accompany the militants but had not visited her home. SP Handwara said that the residents of entire Handwara belt had accepted the reality of Shah being a militant. DIG as well as SP claimed that the Police-Army operation was '100 percent clean'. A number of separatist leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Sajjad Gani Lone, Bilal Gani Lone, Shabir Ahmed Shah, Mohammad Yasin Malik, Nayeem Khan and Hashim Qureshi, have meanwhile described Mohammad Ramzan Shah as 'in innocent student' and alleged that he had been killed by armed forces in cold blood. They have condemned Shah's killing and said in their separate statements that the peace process and bloodshed could not go together in Kashmir. They demanded a credible inquiry into Shah's killing and asked the State and the Central Governments to put an end to the continued bloodshed in the State.