Civilian killings at the sites of gunfights in Kashmir have seen a sharp decline in the past three months, security agencies said Monday, day after a teenager was killed near an encounter site in southern Shopian district.
According to official figures, 50 civilians were killed in protests at encounter sites this year (until November 26).
“There has, however, been a sharp decline in incidents of civilian killings at the encounter sites for the past three months,” a senior police officer said, wishing not to be named as he wasn’t authorised to speak to media.
He said that after “repeated reviews” on preventing civilian killings at gunfight sites, a “series of steps” were taken in May this year, including “strengthening multi-layer security cover at such spots”.
About killing of 17-year-old boy at Batagund village in Shopian on Sunday during a protest at the encounter site, the officer said: “Shopian was a major operation where six militants including some top commanders were killed. Some youth had managed to reach very closer to the encounter site where bullets were raining from all directions, and in between the youth was hit”.
He said “despite knowing that they can get killed, youth still try to get closer to encounter spots”.
“It is not possible to say whose bullet had hit the youth (in Shopian). The only possible way to avoid such killings is that youth must realise that they can get killed if they try to inch closer to encounter spots,” the officer said.
He said in Anantnag—just two days before the Shopian encounter—six militants were killed and there was no “collateral damage”.
“Before that, we had a series of encounters where there was no civilian casualty. Shopian youth was hit after all six militants were killed,” the officer said.
CRPF spokesman in Srinagar Sanjay Sharma claimed that “it has been observed that militants fire more bullets than the forces”.
“Forces respond very sensibly as they are trained. Still, it remains unclear every time whose bullet hits civilians who try to get closer to the encounter spots to disrupt the operations,” he said.
“In Shopian, topography of the area is such that despite a multi-layer cordon in place, youth still managed to reach very closer to the gunfight site. We once again appeal youth to show maturity and not risk their lives by going closer to gunfight sites.”
An official said that security agencies operating in Kashmir had last year formulated a strategy to increase the number of their forces personnel in the “outer and middle layer cordons”.
“The fresh security plan entailed that outer and middle layer cordons would comprise police and CRPF men who would primarily be responsible for dealing with the law and order situation. The close-contact-cordon (third layer) would remain engaged directly with the militants,” he said.
Top officials of police, CRPF and the army say there was “no fault in the standard operating procedure for dealing with protesters at the encounter site and in fact the SOP was modified after steep rise in such incidents in first six months this year”.
Interestingly, the recent major gunfights in Kashmir took place during the night time.
“We believe that daytime encounters see a large number of protestors and intensified clashes than gunfights that take place during the night hours. This, however, doesn’t mean that if we get a credible lead during day time about presence of militants somewhere, we won’t launch the operation there,” he said.