Army Man Held For Role In Disappearance Of Three Kashmiri Men

9 December 2015
The Hindustan Times
Toufiq Rashid and Abhishek Saha

Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir police arrested an armyman for allegedly being involved in disappearance of three North Kashmir residents. Manzoor Ahmad Khawaja, who works in 160 battalion of Territorial Army, was arrested on late Tuesday night, following complaints by family members of the missing persons. The families have alleged that the trio had left with Khawaja of Daridipora on November 17, after he promised them jobs in the army. The trio - Ghulam Jeelani Khatana (42), Mir Hussain Khatana (45) and Ali Muhammad Sheikh (40) - , residents of North Kashmir's Kupwara district, have been missing since November 17 and their family members have claimed that they were 'lured' by the Territorial Army man for jobs in neighbouring village of Keran. Wives of Ghulam and Mir said their husbands knew Khawaja and he had taken them along with him. Speaking to Hindustan Times, Noor Hasan Khatana, elder brother of Ghulam, recounted what happened on November 17 and what followed. Hasan said on the morning of November 17 Ghulam, a trader of goats and sheep, and his neighbour Mir left with Khawaja, who assured them a porters' job. Khawaja and the duo had struck a friendship for the last three months and he used to visit their homes quite often,' he added. Since the day the trio left with Khawaja, the family has been unable to contact Ghulam, who did not have a mobile phone of his own. 'While leaving home, Ghulam handed over a piece of paper, containing three phone numbers, to us. But none of the numbers can be reached,' Hasan said. 'We haven't spoken to either Ghulam or Mir after November 17. Mir's phone has been unreachable or switched off since then,' Hasan said. 'On November 26, Khawaja picked up our phone on one of the numbers on the piece of paper and said he had no information regarding my brother. We could understand from his tone that something was wrong. He refused to meet us also,' Hasan said, adding, 'On November 28, when we suspected something was wrong, we decided to file a police complaint.' On November 28, the family filed a report at Kralpora and Trehgam police stations. 'The family members have registered a complaint, fearing that trio might have been killed in a fake encounter, said Kupwara superintendent of police (SP) Aijaz Bhat, adding, 'We have arrested the man they had left home with and are interrogating him.' The accused was produced before a local court on Wednesday. Advocate Bilal Ahmad Mallik, the lawyer for the victims' family, said, 'The accused has been sent to a two-day police remand and the next date for the hearing has been set for December 11.' 'The family members are apprehensive that the missing men might have been killed. But as a lawyer, I have just filed an application, asking for investigation into the matter,' Mallik added. 'Now that Khawaja has been arrested, we hope we will get to know what happened to my brother,' Hasan said. In April 2010, the army had killed three persons at Machil in north Kashmir, saying that the killed men were militants. It was later proven to be a case of fake encounter, in which the three victims were promised jobs as porters and later killed. Six army men were awarded life sentence in the case earlier this year. Army's stance on the alleged abduction: Meanwhile, Srinagar-based army spokesperson said the case of alleged abduction by Khawaja was subjudice. 'Khawaja reported to police whenever required by them. Full cooperation is being extended by the army for investigations, which are in progress. He has given his statement to the police,' the spokesperson said, adding that the army had denied any case of fake encounter as alluded to in some dailies. 'The army stands by its policy of zero tolerance for HR violations,' he added.