Conflict

Witnesses say ‘missing’ Rajouri labourers were in Shopian, had rented accommodation

Srinagar: Lal Din Khatana who was among the first villagers to reach the gunfight spot in Mirzapur Chak of Shopian on July 18, has said, that one of the three killed ‘militants’ was wearing slippers.

“There was a loud noise then we realised what had happened. I saw the bodies, when the forces called us to identify them. I saw that one of them had slippers on. They were wearing old and torn clothes,” Khatana said.

Touseef Ahmad of Chowgam village Shopian says one of the missing, Imtiyaz Ahmad of Rajouri, worked for him as a labourer since last year and is known to the family.

“Imtiyaz used to come here to work in our orchard. He came here last year too for labour,” Touseef says.

“We used to pay him 500 rupees per day. When the other two labourers came they shifted into a rented accommodation. Then they went missing. I used to call his number but it was switched off,” Touseef adds.

Muhammad Yousuf Bhat of Mirzapur of Shopian explaining the events when forces called him to his orchard where they had killed 3 unidentified persons on July 18 around 6:00am, says, “we were called and the forces asked me if this was my land. But I didn’t see the bodies. They were already taken by then. Others told me there were bodies in my land.”

The owner of the rented accommodation, Shakeel Lone, says Imtiyaz from Rajouri who is missing along with his two relatives had rented his room in Chowgam of Shopian.

“It is a small distance away from the camp. They had rented the room for Rs 1600 per month, but weren’t here since the morning of July 17. The door was latched from inside and only one window was open,” the owner says.

A family member from Rajouri has identified their kin saying that he is one in the photograph purportedly of those killed in Shopian on July 18.

“It is for sure that it is him. All three are boys from Rajouri,” he said.

They family had said on Monday that they are seeking permission from the Rajouri district administration to go to Shopian on Tuesday.

He said all the three young men had gone to Shopian to earn their livelihood and had no link with militancy.

District Police Rajouri has said that the families have approached the police saying their kin who had gone to Shopian have not ‘contacted them after 17th July’ and they lodged missing report at Peeru.

The police has said, “meanwhile Social media reported that the terrorists killed in an operation at Shopian on 18/07/2020 are reportedly their kins. Apropos to our earlier press note regarding the said operation, Police had provided sufficient time for identification of dead bodies at PCR Kashmir Srinagar. However, the dead bodies could not be identified and they were buried in presence of Magistrate after conducting post-mortem and lifting DNA samples.”

“Taking cognisance of the claim by the families and media reports, Shopian Police will examine the claimants and carry out DNA sampling for matching purpose. Besides identification, Police will also investigate all other aspects as per the law in due course of time,” the police has said.

Earlier, 21 days after three labourers from Rajouri went missing from Kashmir’s Shopian district, the families of the missing labourers had registered an FIR at Peeri Police Post, in Rajouri district.

Hailing from Rajouri’s Peeri Tehsil, Imtiaz Ahmed son of Sabir Hussain, Ibrar Ahmed, son of Bagha Khan and Ibrar Ahmed son of Mohammad Yousuf, left their homes on July 15 to find work in Kashmir.

Amidst the lockdown, the trio managed to reach Shopian district where they rented a room, and purchased some essentials, as per the family.

Speaking to Free Press Kashmir, a relative of one of the missing persons said, “the last time we spoke to them was on  July 17, after that we were not able to establish any contact with them.”

Social activist from Rajouri, Guftar Ahmed Chowdhary told Free Press Kashmir, “the family members were apprehensive that they might have been put in quarantine given the inter-district travel and might contact soon. Days turned into weeks, and when they lost patience, they reached out to me, after which we registered the FIR.”

Reacting to the news of three missing labourers, and the incident being linked to the Shopian Gunfight, the Indian Army has said that the three militants killed in Shopian have not yet been identified.

“The three Terrorists killed during the operation (in Shopian) have not been identified and the bodies were buried based on established protocols. The Army is investigating the matter,” PRO Rajesh Kalia has said.

Earlier, The CPI (M) had said that the incident of three labourers from Rajouri going missing from Shopian district from July 17 is a serious issue and needs a time-bound judicial probe, CPI (M) has said.

“There are unverified reports that the missing labourers have been killed in a fake encounter in Shopian on July 18. This is shocking and must be probed by a sitting High Court judge in a time-bound manner, CPI (M) said.

“In the past also unfortunate incidents of civilians being killed in fake encounters for rewards and promotions have been reported in Kashmir. The 2010 unrest was the creation of the Machil fake encounter. Those who are proved to be involved in such henious crimes be brought to justice,” CPI (M) added.

Earlier, Ex Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, who has been in detention since August 2019 reacted to the news of three missing labourers from Rajouri, saying that she is shocked to hear that they have been killed in a staged encounter.

The twitter handle is being operated by Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, Iltija Mufti.

“Armed forces have a free hand to operate with impunity. Explains why bodies are allowed to decompose at unknown locations. Probes into recent encounters must be ordered,” she added.

A senior Kashmiri journalist, Ahmed Ali Fayaz took to twitter and wrote that “all three ‘suspected militants’ killed in Amshipora Shopian ‘encounter’ on 18 July 2020, have been repeatedly identified as the missing labourers of Rajouri on basis of photographs by the families.”

Fayaz wrote that if this was the truth, then it would be the first such case (of fake encounter) after killing of 3 civilians in Machil in 2010.

SSP Shopian Amrit Paul Singh has said, “we are investigating the case.”

Advisor to the Governor, Farooq Khan has said that ‘it is true that a report about missing people has been filed, but the rumours about staged and fake encounter, can be a conspiracy to vitiate the peace in Kashmir’.

“I want to tell you that any such cospiracy will be crushed. Regarding the missing persons, enquiry is going on and once anything comes we will let you know,” he told the press.

 

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