Srinagar | February 23, 2006 1:15:15 AM IST
Four boys aged between 10 and 18 died after being caught in crossfire between soldiers and guerrillas in Jammu and Kashmir Wednesday, prompting Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to order a probe into the matter.
The boys – identified as Shabir (10), Ghulam Hasan Bhat (12), Aamir Hajam (16) and Abdul Samad Mir (18) – died when they were caught in an exchange of fire between Rashtriya Rifles troops and militants at Dudipurain village in Kupwara district, 85 km from summer capital Srinagar.
In a statement, Azad expressed "displeasure and anguish" at the death of the boys and said the "circumstances in which these killings took place leading to loss of four precious lives, demand thorough inquiry to ascertain the facts".
Announcing that an inquiry by a magistrate had been ordered, Azad directed Divisional Commissioner Basharat Ahmad Dhar and the inspector general of police (Kashmir range) to visit the spot.
Azad also conveyed his sympathies to the families of the victims.
Referring to the incident at Dudipurain, Inspector General of Police K. Rajendra told IANS: "As the troops were trying to lay a cordon around the village, they came under fire from the militants. In the crossfire, the four youths died."
However, another police officer said the boys, who were playing cricket in the village ground, died when the troops opened fire without provocation.
The officer said the troops had come to arrest Abdul Samad Mir. This triggered panic and the youth started running.
The troops then opened fire, killing two of the boys instantly. The other two succumbed to their injuries on the way to a hospital.
Meanwhile, high tension gripped Handwara and adjoining areas as villagers refused to bury the bodies of the four boys, alleging they were killed in indiscriminate and unprovoked firing by the soldiers.
The bodies were kept in the village high school as protests continued in Dudipurain. Villagers from adjoining areas reached the village as the news of the killings spread.
Fearing trouble on Thursday, authorities have beefed up security in the area.
Mehbooba Mufti, the president of Kashmir’s ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), condemned the killings.
Earlier Wednesday, at least five terrorists and an Indian soldier were killed in two separate gun battles. Another soldier was injured in one of the firefights.
Col. D.K. Badola, spokesman of the army’s 16 Corps, said one of the gun battles erupted when soldiers and policemen launched an operation in the mountainous area of Mahore in Udhampur district, 160 km north of Jammu, to catch a group of terrorists.
In a similar incident at Surankot in Poonch district, 220 km northwest of Jammu, two militants were killed in a gun battle with soldiers.