4 of Minority Community Massacred near Mendhar
28 February 2000
Mendhar: A day after the killings of eight army personnel at Nowshera, the Pakistan-sponsored militants gunned down four members of minority community including three women and wounded another at Hindu Mohalla in Harni village, about 14 kms from here in Poonch district late last night. Meanwhile, a threat of migration from minority community in some sensitive areas of this tehsil loomed large due to failure of police and security forces to protect their lives even as a complete bandh was observed in Poonch and Mendhar town to protest the carnage, the third in this border town. Official and Defence sources told EXCELSIOR today that a group of five militants, suspected to be the activists of Hizbul Mujahideen’s Pir Panjal Regiment, sneaked into Hindu Mohalla of Harni village at about 2200 hours last night and opened indiscriminate firing on the houses of minority community. The militants, who appeared to be local militants as they were well versed with the area and houses of minority community, fired on the houses for more than five minutes killing four civilians—three of them women—on the spot and wounding another. Surprisingly, a Mendhar police station party led by the SHO and comprising five police personnel was camping in the same village as a message had been intercepted that militants’ will strike in the village to take revenge of 14 civilians’ killings in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) few days back. The police party didn’t retaliate at all and allowed the militants to kill civilians with impunity. After completing their ‘operation’, the militants managed to escape from the village easily as police party remained a silent spectator. After the militants’ escape, the police party came out of the houses and contacted army, which was at the distance of more than two kms from the scene of macabre. Army personnel also reached the spot and launched an operation with the help of local police to apprehend the militants. By the sunrise, troops had fanned out in different adjoining areas of Harni and carried out searches for the accused, sources said but added that no arrest could be made out immediately. The deceased were identified as Madhu Bala wife of Dharampaul, Lokesh Kumar son of Dharampaul, Pushp Lata daughter of Dharampaul and Anju Devi wife of Parveen Kumar. Pushkar Raj was seriously injured and has been airlifted to Medical College hospital, Jammu. Post-mortem on the bodies was conducted on the spot and they were handed over to family members. Bodies were cremated enmasse this evening. DIG Poonch-Rajouri Range Ram Lubaya, SSP Poonch Pankaj Saxena and Deputy Commissioner Poonch were camping at Harni alongwith reinforcement to supervise the search operations in the tehsil. Local people in Harni and adjoining villages were agitated against the massacre and miserable failure of police to protect them. They said they had been receiving threatening letters from the militants to vacate the village. ''We had informed police and security officers a number of times about the threats'', they said but regretted that police or security forces made no efforts to set up a permanent security or police picket in the area. Police present in the village made no effort to save the civilians, they added. They said the people of Harni had decided to migrate from the village in a day or so but before they could do so, the militants struck. Local people feared that minority community members were in the process of migration from Magnar, Jhalas, Salotri and Khanetar as there was no police or security forces protection in these villages. ''If timely protection is not given to the minorities in these villages, they will have no other option but to migrate to safer areas'', people here said. A Defence spokesman in Jammu said the massacre could be in retaliation to the killings of 14 civilians in Lanjot village of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) three days back. The village Lanjot is on the same infiltration route which takes the militants through Harni and on to the Surankot. ''It is obvious that inter-group rivalry among the militants was getting out of control of its masters'', he asserted indicating that both the massacres were executed by the militants. A complete bandh was observed in Mendhar town today with shops owned by both the communities remaining closed in protest against the carnage and police failure. Bandh was also observed in Poonch town where all shops, Government offices, banks and business concerns remained closed throughout the day. Fort building, which housed a number of Government offices, was also closed alongwith the educational institutions and Treasury. Traffic also remained off the roads. Only long route buses were allowed to ply from the Bus Stand. Bar Association held a meeting in Poonch under the chairmanship of Mr D N Dutta and strongly denounced the killings. They alleged that State Government has failed to ensure safety of the people. Others who attended the meeting were Sanjay Raina, Mohan Singh, Taj Hussain, Mohd Zaman, Lal Hussain and Mohinder Pyasa. BJP leader from Rajouri Mr Vibodh Gupta has also condemned the massacre and demanded protection for minorities in Poonch and Rajouri districts.