SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Thousands of people in Indian Kashmir staged protests against the army on Thursday, a day after four youths were killed in a shooting incident, police and witnesses said.
Police on Wednesday said the four, aged between 8 and 18, were killed when gunmen and soldiers exchanged fire in Doodipora village, near Handwara town, 50 miles north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India’s Jammu and Kashmir state.
But protesters and villagers blamed the army for the killings.
Wailing villagers refused to bury the four bodies, instead placing them — wrapped in white cloth — on a bed in the middle of a road junction.
"We will lay them to rest only after soldiers (involved in the shooting) are punished," Mohammad Hafiz, a resident of Handwara said.
A Reuters photographer at the scene said nearly 6,000 people, including women and children, had gathered in the village by mid-morning to grieve over the bodies and express their anger.
"Security forces opened unprovoked fire on boys who were playing cricket in a field," 60-year-old Abdul Aziz, a resident of Doodipora, told Reuters.
The Indian army denied it was to blame, and said militants were responsible for the killings, which it says happened during a search operation for rebel fighters.
A separatist insurgency has raged in the region since 1989, killing tens of thousands of people.
An army statement said that two of the dead, who it added were both aged 20, were targeted by militants.
"Terrorists specifically targeted Samad Mir, a known worker of (militant group) Lashkar-e-Taiba … along with Shaikh Alam presuming that these two would provide information to the army about the location of the hiding terrorists," an army statement said.It said the other two boys were killed in an exchange of fire. The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state has ordered an inquiry.