August 1998 News

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Jammu and Kashmir Militants Gun Down 35 in Chamba District

2nd August 1998

SHIMLA: In the first-ever incident of its kind in Himachal Pradesh, 35 persons were gunned down and 11 injured by suspected Jammu Chamba district - Kalaban and Shatrundi - in the early hours of Monday.

Chief secretary O P Yadav said the incident at Kalaban took place at 3 a.m. The same group of militants was believed to have struck at believed to be mostly labourers. Kalaban is about 30 km from the state's border with Jammu and Kashmir and the nearest road head from the village is 15 km away.

Official reports said the militants, who are suspected to have crossed over from Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir, first struck at a near Kalaban village where they fired with automatic weapons at labourers who were sleeping. Twenty-six of them were killed.

The militants are then believed to have gone to Shatrundi where too some labourers had camped for the night. After killing nine persons, they escaped under the cover of darkness. Unconfirmed reports said the militants first tied all the labourers in Kalaban to trees before killing them.

The district authorities came to know of the incident six hours after the incident when two of the injured, Naseerudin and Dhyan Singh, managed to reach the Mansa police station after undertaking a trek of 8 km. By that time, the militants might have crossed over to Doda. The militants are suspected to have targeted the labourers to disrupt the work on the Bairagarh-Shatrundi link road which would ultimately make the remote areas of Chamba accessible.

The militants are believed to take refuge in these remote areas during summers when the snow melts and also when security forces mount pressure on them in the neighboring state. Besides, the inhospitable terrain and the thick forest cover provide a perfect hideout for the militants.

Chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, who was in to the two villages. He is reported to be in touch with Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and suggested a joint operation to nab the militants. A unit of the Rashtriya Rifles, camping at Bhaderwah in the Doda region of Jammu and Kashmir, was being rushed to assist the Himachal Pradesh police.

President K R Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee condemned the killings by militants in Chamba district.

In a statement, the President said: "the hope the authorities would take all possible steps to stop this cold-blooded carnage and apprehend the culprits to ensure communal harmony." Condemning the incident as outrageous, the Prime Minister called upon the authorities to take sternest measures to deal with such elements who were out to disturb peace and harmony.

It may be recalled that militants had recently killed four persons from Himachal Pradesh who had gone to the neighboring Doda district to collect herbs. Their bodies were seen by a Gujjar who reported the matter to the police.

Only last week, the chief minister had informed the Himachal assembly that he had asked Union home minister L K Advani and Mr Abdullah states against the militants with the help of Central forces. Mr Dhumal had said that when snow melted, people living in the higher areas of Chamba moved to the plains in search of work.

Their empty houses were used by the militants from Jammu and Kashmir as hideouts. Red alert has been sounded in six districts of Jammu and Kashmir - Doda, Rajouri, Poonch, Udhampur, Kathua and Jammu following the massacres, inspector-general of police of Jammu zone Kuldeep Khuda said.


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