February 2004 News

Kashmir 'shield' Dead Spark Demos

8 February 2004

Srinagar: Police in Indian-administered Kashmir have opened fire and used tear gas to break up a massive demonstration north of the summer capital, Srinagar. Demonstrators were protesting against the killing of five civilians they say Indian troops used as human shields during an operation against militants. The demonstrations took place in the town of Bandipora, 60km from Srinagar. Local residents say the civilians who died were captured by troops from a village near Bandipora on Friday. Thousands of villagers took to the streets They say the troops used them as human shields during an operation against militants near the village of Chhattibanbi. Police sources say at least four militants, including two foreigners and three Indian soldiers, were killed in a gun battle that broke out. Bodies of the civilians were returned to their families on Sunday morning. More than 15,000 people marched from Chhattibanbi to the main town, carrying the bodies. They tried to ransack a police station and set fire to at least one police vehicle. Curfew Police fired overhead and lobbed tear gas to break up the demonstration. Reinforcements of police and paramilitary have been rushed to the town, where an undeclared curfew was imposed for a few hours to restore peace. There has been no official statement from the army or the civil administration. The killings took place barely 18 days after a moderate faction of Kashmiri separatists started a dialogue with India's deputy prime minister, LK Advani, in the face of opposition from hardliners, particularly militants. Mr Advani promised them a halt to human rights violations by Indian troops as a confidence building measure.


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