Land row: Violence, arson rage in Jammu (Third Lead)

August 5th, 2008 - 10:18 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Amarnath Shrine

Jammu, Aug 5 (IANS) A dozen policemen were injured, a police post and government buildings were set ablaze and a railway track was uprooted in escalated violence here Tuesday amid growing communal unrest in Jammu and Kashmir over controversial land which was first allotted to and then reclaimed from a Hindu shrine board. According to sources, protesters demanding restoration of forest land in the Kashmir Valley to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) clashed with the police in Jaurian, a border town in Jammu.

The sources said the police opened warning fire to disperse the angry demonstrators, which provoked the mob into throwing stones at a police post.

Thirteen policemen were injured in the clash, said the sources.

Violent protests continued Tuesday in the Jammu region, which has been simmering with anger amid series of shutdowns and curfew for the last 35 days over the land transfer.

According to the sources, protesters Tuesday set ablaze a police picket and government offices in Akhnoor and Kathua districts.

A railway track was uprooted near Ghagwal forcing the authorities to suspend train services to the state.

An angry mob blocked the Jammu-Pathankot National Highway from Kathua to Vijaypur - a stretch of nearly 50 km. The protesters, according to the sources, then damaged the Jammu-Pathankot railway track between Ghagwal and Samba - a stretch of 10 km. All Jammu-bound trains were subsequently suspended.

The land transfer and its subsequent revocation has polarised Muslim and Hindus of the state.

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.

Officials were reviewing the situation, which is fast worsening and attaining a communal tone.

The fresh spate of violence comes a day after two protesters were allegedly killed in police firing in Samba town. Their bodies were cremated Tuesday amid raging anger and anguish over the Amarnath land row.

The government ordered a magisterial probe into the alleged police firing in Samba on demonstrators blocking traffic on the Jammu-Pathankot Highway to press for their demand of restoration the forest.

But the protesters demanded action against the accused police officer. Hundreds of them Tuesday laid siege to the highway demanding that the accused 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.

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