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Kin of 3 missing men smell another fake encounter in Kashmir

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 1:33 IST

The case

  • Three villagers from Kupwara disappeared on 17 November
  • They were in touch with a Territorial Army personnel

Contrary versions

  • Police say the three may have crossed the LoC to spy for India
  • Families of the missing don\'t buy the argument

More in the story

  • Why is the incident bringing back memories of the Machil fake encounter?
  • Does the police version pass muster?
  • For people in the Valley, the news triggered a sense of deja vu

It was like deja vu. The news of three villagers gone missing on November 17 in Kupwara district of North kashmir brought back memories of the Machil fake encounter.

The three missing villagers, their families allege, were in touch with a Territorial Army soldier before their mysterious disappearance. The Police arrested the soldier, identified as Manzoor Khwaja, who admitted to have met the villagers. But the missing trio is yet to be traced.

The three missing are Ghulam Jeelani Khatana, 46, Mir Hussain 50, and Ali Muhammad Sheikh, 36, from Kralpora and Dardpora villages. Khwaja is also from Dardpora.

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Their disappearance and the alleged involvement of a local security personnel has brought back memories of the 2010 Machil fake encounter. Then, too, three Kashmiri youth - Shehzad Ahmad, Riyaz Ahmad and Mohammad Shafi - from Baramulla's Naid Khai village had been lured to Kalaroos in Kupwara by Army informers Bashir Ahmad Lone and Abdul Hamid with promises of job and money.

They were later shot dead and dubbed terrorists infiltrating from Pakistan. The discovery that the killings were fake had let loose a torrent of protests in the Valley for five months. Around 120 youth - mostly teenagers - were killed in the unrest.

Another fake encounter

Are the Kralpora and Dardpora disappearances also a case of fake encounter?

On Wednesday, the Army ordered an inquiry into the disappearance of the three men in Kupwara. "We have ordered an inquiry into the case and if the role of Army is established, action will follow," General officer Commanding of Srinagar-based 15 Corps Lt Gen Satish Dua said. "The Army is committed to zero tolerance on human rights violations."

Nothing can be said with certainty yet, especially unless the three are found or their bodies recovered.

Four militants have been killed in Kupwara since the disappearance of the three villagers

In the Machil case, families of the victims identified their bodies after the youth were shot dead near Sona Pindi along the Line of Control.

So far four militants have been killed in Kupwara since the disappearance of the three villagers, but none of them bore any resemblance to those missing. The families didn't recognize any of them as their own when the police showed their photographs to them.

What the families say

Saleema Begum, wife of Hussain, said her husband left with Khawaja on November 17.

"My husband and Ahmad left together. He told me he will return by evening. But when I called his number in the afternoon, it was switched off," she said.

The families lodged a missing person's report on 28 November at Trehgam police station and told the police that the Khwaja had promised the men jobs as porters in the Army.

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So far, investigations have revealed little and the Valley is agog with speculation of the three being killed in a fake encounter or sent across the LoC.

Sources in the police suggest the latter, citing the Army man in their custody. But that explanation hasn't found many takers. The villagers have argued that two of those missing are in their mid forties and, over the past 25 years of militancy, rarely have middle-aged men with families have taken up the gun.

The Valley is agog with speculation of the three being killed in a fake encounter or sent across the LoC

Also, if the villagers had crossed the LoC to gain information about the presence of militants, they would have at least taken their families into confidence as they were married and with children. Hussain, the oldest among the three, has six children.

On Tuesday, the villagers protested on the Kupwara-Baramulla road, shouting anti-Army slogans and rejected the police's explanation that the trio must have crossed the LoC to collect information for Indian Army.

"It can't be true. Why would my husband go leaving us alone? Why don't we know then? Who sent them?," said Haseena Begum, wife of Ali Muhammad Sheikh. "The police should put more pressure on Khwaja. He must know everything."

Similarly Khursheed Ahmad, nephew of Jeelani, also rejected the argument. "My uncle is a petty labourer. He knows nothing about this murky business. How could he be expected to work as a spy," Ahmad said while expressing apprehensions that they may have been killed. "We fear the worst. That is why we need clear-cut answers."

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First published: 16 December 2015, 10:52 IST