Tuesday, January 11, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


J A M M U   &   K A S H M I R

Fear stalks Kathua residents
From M.L. Kak
Tribune News Service

KATHUA, Jan 10 — Fear of militants stalks 4.93 lakh people in this, otherwise sleepy, district.

There have been reports that large groups of militants have been moving between Bhaderwah in Doda district and the hilly belts of Kathua for the past several months. The fear was deepened by yesterday's incidents. A group of militants barged into the house of a BJP leader, Abdul Ghani Bhat, and killed him and his relative. They also killed a retired forest guard in the Lohal Malhar area of Billawar tehsil.

The militants had entered into the house of Abdul Ghani Bhat, to eliminate two of his close relatives who had given up militancy.

  The attack may have been carried out by foreign mercenaries. They had been guided to the house, official sources said.

Vinod Kumar, a trader, said whether the militants were hunting for two surrendered rebels or not is hardly of any importance. "What is worrying is the way militants sneaked into the Billawar belt and carried out their assigned task without any hindrance," he said.

However, one police officer said the militants have been coming to the Billawar belt after they felt unsafe in Marmoth and Bhaderwah areas of Doda district. He said during the past several months there have been attempts by the militants to carve out hideouts in some hilly belts of Kathua district.

Spread over an area of 2651 sq kms Kathua district has four tehsils, Kathua, Hiranagar, Basohli and Billawar. The district has border kandi and hilly belts. It is the border and hilly belts where the people do not feel safe. Large number of villages in Hiranagar border tehsil fall close to the international border. Pakistani troops resort intermittent fire on these villages. Last year several villages, including Londi were deserted by the people when the Pak bullets hit the houses. Five persons including two BSF jawans were wounded.

"We always live in fear", said Subash Gupta, a businessman in Hiranagar. As far as the hilly belt is concerned Billawar and Basohli tehsils are said to have been targeted by the militants.

Several police officials agreed with the allegations of people that adequate security measures had not been taken in hand to check the movement of militants from Bhaderwah or Marmoth to Billawar, especially to Lohal Malhar block. They said that paucity of security forces had not allowed "us to sanitise the area." They said additional companies of police and paramilitary forces had to be rushed to Lohal Malhar from Kathua to carry out search operations.

The Director General of Police, Mr Gurbachan Jagat, said that militants were to spread the scare of insurgency by extending their subversive activities to Kathua district. Measures were being taken to frustrate their plans, he emphasised.

Experts are of the view that extension of militant activities to Kathua district would not be as simple an affair as it has been in case of Udhampur district. Once militants established their hideouts in Kathua belts it could endanger parts of Chamba district in Himachal Pradesh and Pathankot and Gurdaspur in Punjab.

According to these experts, step up in militancy, related-violence could allow a chance to Punjab militants to set up their bases at Kathua.

There are two battalions of the ITBP in Chamba. This small force would prove insufficient to tackle militancy in case Billawar and Basohli were converted into militant zones. It is in this context that the Kathua district administration has conveyed to the State authorities the need for sending additional forces so that police checkposts could be established in several sensitive areas, including the mountain routes connecting Billawar with Chamba and Kathua with Bhaderwah and Marmoth in Doda district.

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