Kashmir land row: Probe ordered into Samba killings (Lead)

August 5th, 2008 - 4:19 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, Aug 5 (IANS) The Jammu and Kashmir government Tuesday ordered a magisterial probe into the alleged police firing that left two protesters dead and several injured in a town on the Jammu-Pathankote National Highway Monday. Hundreds of demonstrators had gathered in Samba town blocking traffic on the highway to press for their demand of restoration of 40 hectares of forest land in north Kashmir to the board of a Himalayan cave shrine in south Kashmir.

The police allegedly opened fire on the protesters killing two of them and injuring 28.

The protesters alleged that district police chief Prabhat Singh opened fire first and other policemen followed.

Official sources said Governor N.N. Vohra, who is performing chief ministerial functions after the state assembly was dissolved July 9, took cognizance of the case and ordered that the killings be probed by a magistrate.

District official Saurav Bhagat has been asked to appoint an officer to conduct the probe, the sources said.

Bhagat told newsmen that a “magisterial probe has been ordered”, and soon the terms of reference would be announced.

But the people are not satisfied and were demanding action against the officer. Hundreds of them Tuesday laid siege to the highway demanding that the policemen who opened fire be brought to book.

Police officials said traffic came to a standstill on the highway even as most parts of the Jammu region continued to be under curfew for the fourth day Tuesday. Army and police personnel were deployed to guard stranded trucks.

“There is no fixed formula to deal with such a situation. It has to be handled with care and this time we don’t want any escalation in the tension,” a police officer told IANS on condition of anonymity.

The issue of the land transfer to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and its subsequent revocation has had the state on the boil polarising Muslim and Hindus for more than a month now.

At least 14 people have been killed in both the regions, the Kashmir Valley and Jammu, of the state since May 26 when the government first ordered diversion of the land to the SASB.

The order was later revoked July 1 following 10-day long violent protests in the Muslim-dominated valley in June.

The revocation ignited passion in Hindu-majority Jammu where some groups under the umbrella organisation of the Amarnath Yatra Sangarsh Samiti (AYSS) have been leading the protests for the restoration of the land to the shrine board.

The government says the land was meant for erecting “temporary and pre-fabricated” huts for pilgrims to the temple. But Muslims allege that it was meant for settling outsiders and changing the demography of the valley.

Every year hundreds and thousands of Hindus visit the shrine at an altitude of 3,888 metres. They believe their god Shiva narrated the secret of immortality to his wife Parvati, also a goddess, in the cave.

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