Valley shuts, Army urges Kashmiris to avoid march

It said the security forces make every attempt to avoid any loss of civilian lives in crossfire and minimise collateral damage to property.

Srinagar: A shutdown called by an alliance of key separatist leaders against the killing of seven civilians in firing by the security forces in southern Pulwama district a day ago brought life to a standstill in the Kashmir Valley on Sunday. While most separatist leaders were placed under house arrest ahead of the strike, the local police and Central paramilitary forces in battle gear enforced a lockdown in vast areas of Srinagar. Also, Pulwama town and its neighbourhood remained under curfew for the second straight day on Sunday.

The Army has, meanwhile, appealed to the people to ignore the call for a march to the headquarters of its Srinagar-based 15 Corps on Monday by the “Joint Resistance Leadership”, an alliance of separatist leaders. The alliance had said Saturday that the people of the Valley will march towards Srinagar’s Badami Bagh cantonment on Monday “to ask the Government of India to kill us all at one time, rather than killing us daily.” The Army has termed it a deliberate attempt by the “terrorist-separatist-Pakistan nexus” to pit the civilian population against it and urged the people not to pay heed.

Official sources here said all roads to the Badami Bagh cantonment will be blocked and curfew-like restrictions imposed in all the surrounding areas on Monday to foil the separatists’ march.

Officials said on Sunday restrictions were imposed under Section 144 CrPC in Pulwama district and Nowhatta, Khanyar, Rainawari, Safakadal, M.R. Gunj and Maisuma police station areas of Srinagar “as a precautionary measure to maintain law and order and avoid any untoward incident”. Train services in the Valley also remained suspended for security reasons, and mobile Internet services were withdrawn too.

A general strike against the killing was also observed in the predominantly Muslim Chenab Valley of the state’s Jammu region in response to a call issued by a local religious organisation, Anjuman-e-Islamia.

On Saturday, seven civilians were killed and scores injured when the Army fired live ammunition to quell protesters and stone-hurling mobs in Pulwama’s Kharpora Sirnoo area. The protests were sparked off by the killing of three Hizb-ul-Mujahideen militants by the security forces in a gunfight in the area.

One Army jawan, Sowar Kishan Singh, 29, was also killed and two others injured in the encounter. The security forces’ officials said violent mobs had made repeated attempts to go to the encounter site, chanted slogans to encourage the militants hurled rocks at the security forces. Locals alleged that troops on board two Casspir vehicles opened indiscriminate fire after these came under stone-pelting by groups of youth. They claimed among those hit in firing were also those who were not part of any stone-pelting mob.

Jammu and Kashmir governor Satyapal Malik has expressed grief over the civilian deaths, and asked the security forces to minimise the collateral damage in anti-terror operations. He also ordered a probe into Saturday’s incident by Kashmir’s divisional commissioner Baseer Ahmed Khan, and asked him to suggest precautions to minimise civilian casualties in anti-militancy operations.

However, separatist patriarch Syed Ali Shah Geelani demanded a probe by an independent organisation under the supervision of the United Nations. He also urged the UN to resolve the Kashmir issue at earliest “to prevent genocide of the people”. On Sunday, the police detained dozens of activists led by Awami Itehad Party leader Engineer Rashid as they began a march on the summer headquarters of the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan at Srinagar’s Gupkar Road to protest against the civilian killings.

The Army, in a statement, said that it along with other security agencies and the civil administration was fighting “terrorism and proxy war sponsored by Pakistan and its proxies in Kashmir”. It said that the objective of the security forces was to bring peace and normalcy in the Valley with the support of its people. It also said the security forces had eliminated a large number of militants trying to infiltrate along the Line of Control and neutralised an even larger number of them in the hinterland this year “to improve the overall security situation, while making huge sacrifices themselves”.

The statement said those slain were involved in many cases of gruesome killings of innocent Kashmiris, including civilians, special police officers, police personnel and other security forces personnel on leave. It said the security forces make every attempt to avoid any loss of civilian lives in crossfire and minimise collateral damage to property.

The Army strongly condemned the call to march to the Badami Bagh cantonment on Monday by what it alleged were “Pak proxies”, and advised people “not to fall prey to such designs of anti-national forces”. It said that the Indian Army was always with the people of Kashmir and would foil all such evil attempts of the “terrorist-separatist-Pakistan nexus” to pit the civilian population against the security forces. “The public is once again advised not to pay heed to this misleading call by JRL,” the statement concluded.

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