Baramulla Under Siege, Normalcy Returns To Sopore

Baramulla Under Siege, Normalcy Returns To Sopore

10 March 2013
Greater Kashmir
Rizwan Geelani and Javid Ahmad

Baramulla: Six days after the killing of Tahir Rasool Sofi in army firing, restrictions continued to remain enforced in main town Baramulla and other areas on Sunday though life returned to normal in main town Sopore after the curfew was lifted. Meanwhile, clashes and sporadic protests were witnessed in Palhalan, Sangrama and Seelo Sopore. Large number of police and paramilitary CRPF men were deployed on the bridges connecting Baramulla town with the other areas of North Kashmir. The bridges were sealed off with spools of concertina wires and movement of people was restricted and they remained confined to their own localities. “The old town area was cordoned off from all the sides while lanes and by-lanes were closed by barbed wires, residents were virtually made prisoners in their houses,” a local resident Omar Ahmad said. He said the whole area witnessed curfew-like restrictions. “It was curfew without announcement in old town. We couldn’t step out of our homes,” he said. As shopkeepers hail from old town area, the market in Main Chowk- the business hub of the district- remained closed for whole day. Traffic was also off the roads. “We could not make it to the other side of bridges as they were sealed by barbed wires with huge deployment of security forces in place. The whole market remained closed,” said Ghulam Hassan, a shopkeeper from old town Baramulla. In the wake of the restrictions that continued in the area, a newly formed Old Town Welfare Forum (OTWF) headed by Imam (cleric) of Old Eid Gah, Muhammad Qasim Shah and 30 other members held a meeting with the district administration and presented a memorandum. In their memorandum presented before the Deputy Commissioner Baramulla, Ghulam Ahmad Khoja, OTWF has demanded withdrawal of all security forces from old town area and arrest of the army personnel involved in killing of Tahir Ahmad Sofi. “All the security forces should be relocated from the area as there is no need for them in the present situation. Killers of Tahir should be arrested punished as soon as possible,” the memorandum reads. It also states that arrested youth of old town Baramulla should be released unconditionally as soon as possible and further harassment by local police and other forces should end as well. Meanwhile, Director General of Police Ashok Prasad accompanied by Inspector General (IG) Kashmir range S M Sahai and Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) law and order convened a high level meeting at the office of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Baramulla. The meeting was convened in order to access the law and order situation in the town. DC Baramulla, GoC Army 19 Infantry Division VG Khandare, SSP Baramulla, Anand Jain, DIG CRPF and SHO Baramulla were also present there. Sources said the police officers in Baramulla were asked in the meeting to brief about the reason for law and order problems in Baramulla town. “DG has asked them to explain the reason for law and problems. Besides they also discussed the future course of action in maintaining the law and order problems in the town,” sources said. Later, IG Police also visited Khanpora area of Baramulla in order to review the situation there. Talking to Rising Kashmir, Deputy Commissioner Baramulla, while referring to his meeting with OTWF, said no restrictions would be imposed in the town “if people extend cooperation for maintaining peace”. “I held a meeting with senior citizens of old town and they were in favor of relaxations from tomorrow. There would be no restrictions if people resumed their business smoothly in the morning.” About the withdrawal of security forces, he said, “This can be decided after holding a high level meeting. It is not in my hands, let the DIG access the situation and government will take the decisions.” Meanwhile, clashes erupted in Sangrama and Palhalan on Srinagar-Baramulla highway. Police fired tear gas shells to disperse groups of youth shouting pro-freedom slogans at Sangrama. At Palhalan, according to locals, three people sustained minor injuries after protesters breached restrictions and hurled stones on security forces triggering clashes. Due to the clashes, traffic movement on highway near Palhalan was badly affected. Later, police chased the protestors and pushed them towards the interior of the area. In Seelo Sopore, restrictions were imposed on the movement of people by police and paramilitary forces. Meanwhile in Handwara town in frontier district of Kupwara, groups of youth raising pro-freedom slogans and denouncing the killing of a Baramulla youth appeared near main Chowk Kupwara. A large posse of forces resorted to tear smoke shelling to disperse the protestors. Complete shutdown was observed in Watergam Rafiabad. Shops and other business establishments were closed and government offices witnessed thin attendance due to non-availability of public transport.