Kulgam: When the sound of a few gunshots came out of the noise of rains beating tin roofs of the Khudwani Kulgam houses late on Tuesday evening, its residents, about to go to sleep, stood still as the shooting grew more steady and intense.
Three Lashkar militants had found themselves under siege by the government forces with a top commander of the guerrilla outfit also trapped in a house in the Wani Mohalla locality, in Kulgam.
The shooting ebbed a little as the night rolled on, and the forces closed off all exit points that the besieged guerrillas might use to escape.
While the heavy rains were lashing the village and the rest of Kashmir, people came out of their homes, heeding impassioned pleas made on the mosque loudspeakers to save the guerrillas. The forces fired tear gas shells and pellets on the protestors to beat them away but they kept coming back at them. Perhaps the heavy urge to sleep led to a peace of sorts for the rest of the night.
As the sun shone on Khudwani, the renewed gunfight pierced its silence, leaving three Army troopers wounded, one of whom died in the Army’s hospital in Srinagar.
Sensing guerrillas were putting up a strong fight, the government forces used explosives to destroy one house and set fire to the three nearby houses and a shop also into which they suspected the guerrillas might have moved. Behind them, hundreds of pro-freedom and pro-guerrilla young men threw stones at the government forces to distract them from the operation to kill the besieged militants.
To push back the protestors, the government forces fired their guns and shot guns letting loose bullets and pellets, wounding many of the protestors. While this was on, women unfazed by the violence and injuries kept giving out water and eatables to the protestors. Many young men carried the injured on motorbikes to the nearby hospital.
As the guns fell silent and the Army moved in to retrieve what they thought would be the bodies of the three guerrillas, they had been fighting for fifteen hours now, the women cried: “May God protect the rebels.”
After three hours of meticulous search by the government forces, there were no bodies to be found. Soon the word spread around that the guerrillas have escaped, leading to scenes of celebration among the pro-freedom protestors.
A police official confirmed that all the three militants had managed to escape from the siege. He identified them as Azad Malik aka Dada alias Zaid of Arwani Bijbehara, LeT district commander for Anantnag; Bilal Ahmad of Khudwani and Muzamil Ahmad of Hawoora Mishpora who had joined Lashkar only a day back. One of them, Azad Malik had sustained a bullet injury in his leg.
According to hospital officials in Kulgam, four pro-freedom protestors were killed by the government forces and some sixty sustained gunshot and pellet wounds. “We received 35 injured during the day at SDH Qaimoh. Three of the civilains were bought dead,” BMO Qaimoh, Dr Shafat said as reported by Greater Kashmir.
Police say 21 injured
A statement issued by the police said: “It is to mention that the hiding militants taking advantage of the crowd assembled across the river Jelhum which was very close to the target house made indiscriminate firing. Though SFs tried to contain it, keeping the security of the general environment in mind, the SFs acted with responsibilities (sic).”
“In the incident, 21 persons were injured out of which three have been discharged. Separately SFs injured are getting treated in hospital,” the statement reads.
The statement said that two militants escaped from the encounter site. “One of whom is said to be injured. This injured militant is identified as Azad Dada of Arwani who is wanted in a number of serious cases involving killing of civilians,” the statement reads.
The statement asked people not to come close to the encounter site “as it is a considerable threat”. (GKNN)