Shopian encounter mystery: Police and Army launch probe of missing labourers

Srinagar: A pair of trousers and a shirt are hanging by the wall of a poorly lit, small, room-cum-kitchen. Two face masks, a pair of sunglasses, a packet of chewing tobacco, and a cigarette lighter are strewn by a window shelf. On the edge of the floor are two pairs of socks, craggy and fusty, as if pulled off someone’s feet moments ago.

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Three polythene bags, filled with onions, potatoes and rice, lie on the kitchen shelf besides five red plastic plates and a water jug. Lower to that shelf are four cups, a deep-bottomed utensil, a bottle of cooking oil filled to the neck, and a few packets—of spices, salt and sugar. To an extreme of the adjacent shelf is an electric stove, on top of which is a metal pot, filled with some cooked rice—which is smelly after lying around for weeks.
This is all that three youths left behind in Kashmir’s Shopian district before they went missing.

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On Monday, however, something more emerged.

The relatives of the trio — Imtiyaz Ahmed and two named Ibrar Ahmed — alleged that they had been killed by the army in a staged gunfight in a village in Shopian district, 50 kilometres south of the region’s capital Srinagar, on July 18.
On that day, army officials said they had killed three unidentified militants in Amshipora village of Shopian district during a gunfight. Around the same time, the trio, hailing from the south-western district of Rajouri, about 160 kilometres away from Shopian, had stopped contact with their families on their way to Shopian, where they were working as labourers.

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The trio was silently buried in a graveyard in Baramulla district, 120 kilometres north of Shopian. Under a new policy, the authorities in Kashmir don’t publicly identify militants killed in gunfights and their bodies are also not handed over to their families. The authorities cite Covid-19 as a reason and say it is aimed to stop the spread of the virus during last rites. Locals, however, say the authorities are using the pandemic as an excuse to stop protests and huge gatherings in support of militants.

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