Army admits firing on civilians, orders probe
18 February 2001
The Asian Age
Jammu: The Army has ordered an inquiry into two successive shooting incidents in Kashmir in which at least seven civilian demonstrators were killed earlier this week. The Army also promised that the guilty would be punished severely under the law. Setting at rest the controversy over who actually had opened fire at the crowds at Haigam in northwestern Kashmir and Maisuma in Srinagar on February 15 and 16, respectively, a senior Army officer confessed on Sunday that the shooters were from the Army. He, however, said that the troops opened fire in self-defence. The Farooq government has also announced a judicial probe into the Haigam firing incident by a sitting state high court judge and, as was promised by chief minister Farooq Abdullah on the floor of the Assembly its findings would be placed before the Prime Minister and capital punishment demanded for the guilty. Lt. Gen. J.R. Mukherjee, the GOC of the 15 Corps, told a crowded press conference in Srinagar that notwithstanding the judicial probe, the Army had also ordered a detailed inquiry into these “unfortunate incidents.” While regretting the bloodshed and expressing his “sincere condolences” to the bereaved families, he made a fervent appeal to the people of Kashmir to abjure the agitation and violence. “We must make all out efforts jointly to give peace process a chance to succeed and join hands to counter those who, we are all aware, are instigating violence in a bid to derail the peace process,” he said. On his part, the officer gave his solemn word that “those of my men who are blameworthy will be brought to book and be dealt with according to the law.” Lt. Gen. Mukherjee said: “We’re humans, we do make errors.” He was not too sure as to what exactly had happened at Haigam because the reports about the incident that reached him were conflicting. “Therefore, allow me to go to the bottom of it... my inquiry will be time-bound and I reiterate that those found guilty would be brought to book and dealt with sternly,” he said. Giving the details of the incidents as were reported to him, Gen. Mukherjee said that on the morning of February 15 a crowd gathered at Haigam to protest against the death of Jaleel Ahmed Shah of Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami outfit killed in an operation carried out by the security forces earlier during that day and to claim his corpse. The crowd, he said, then moved towards the Srinagar-Baramulla national highway where they blocked the road to continue their protest. He said that the traffic movement on the highway was blocked consequent to the agitators’ action. An operational Army and other security forces’ convoy on its way to Baramulla from Srinagar was also halted due to this blockade, he said, adding that the officer-in-charge of the convoy immediately requested for help to clear the crowd. Responding to the request, a police party and additional troops arrived at the scene and attempted to pacify the agitators to allow the traffic to resume. Lt. Gen. Mukherjee said that it initially appeared that they were successful in their efforts, as the crowd moved off the road. The convoy commander, therefore, ordered his men to proceed towards their destination but the moment the vehicles began to move ahead the crowd turned violent and started pelting stones and kangris (traditional firepots) at them, he said. The officer said that there were reports suggesting that some elements opened fire at the convoy, as well. [However, Khursheed Ahmed Khan, station house officer at Sopore, who is himself a complainant in the FIR lodged against the 29 Rashtriya Rifles, has alleged that the troops went berserk even as there was no provocation from the civilian protesters. The FIR also says that the officer regulating the convoy pointed and fired his gun at him but a 65-year-old villager, Safdar Ali Dar, shielded him and in the act fell to the bullets of the Army officer.] But Gen. Mukherjee, on the other hand, asserted that the convoy commander exercised his right to protect a military operational convoy. The Corps Commander said in the right to exercise self-defence ordered five of his men to open controlled fire in the air and move on quickly to the destination. Immediately on reaching his destination, the officer reported the entire incident to his superiors, he added. About the second incident, he said that an intelligence detachment of the 15 Corps in plain clothes in a civil pattern vehicle had gone into the town to check on the stir going on over the Haigam incident. Reportedly, he said, as it crossed the Budshah Bridge and was driving close to the Maisuma locality, the vehicle ran straight into a violent mob that immediately started stoning it. The driver was injured and the vehicle damaged and he veered and banged into a shop on the roadside. The Corps Commander said that again in the exercise to defend himself the driver fired two rounds at the mob from his service pistol. He then reversed the vehicle and drove away. This case was also under detailed investigation, Lt. Gen. Mukherjee said adding that he understood that the local police had registered an FIR in this case, as well.