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Death of Baker
Administration talks tough, Army in a bind
Kumar Rakesh
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, November 20
The Army has tied itself into knots over the killing of an innocent baker on November 17 in Kulgam district of south Kashmir .

After Kulgam deputy commissioner Lateef-u-Zaman Deva pointed a finger at the recklessness behind Riyaz Ahmed Sofi's (30) death, saying soldiers used him as “human shield”, the Army clarified Sofi was accompanying soldiers for the identification of a house when hiding militants opened fire and he died in the crossfire.

The Army's statement today is at variance with what it had said on the day of the incident. Its spokesperson had told the media, including The Tribune, troops were carrying out a search with the police when they saw a few persons moving around in the wee hours and they opened fire when challenged by the forces. Sofi died in the cross-firing, he said.

The deputy commissioner has, however, denied not only the presence of the police with the Army on the fateful night, but also categorically stated the troops used Sofi as “human shield”. “This is what I believe is true based upon the evidence so far. A DSP is investigating the matter and the probe will reach its logical conclusion,” he told The Tribune today.

The clarification by the Army today is partly an admittance of the fact that Sofi was with them on November 17. “He was known to Army personnel at D.H. Pura. They requested him to identify a house in Yarikha village where information on the presence of four terrorists was received," it said. It added militants opened fire as they were approaching the house and Sofi died after being hit by a bullet. "The Army regrets the loss of innocent life. Apparently there was no reason for the Army to have shot Riyaz Ahmed Sofi. A high-level inquiry has, however, been ordered to ascertain facts and rule out any possibility of foul play," it said. It added they recovered eight empties and five live rounds of AK 47 rifle from the site belonging to militants.

The relatives of Sofi, who worked as a baker to run his family of three children and wife, had alleged the same day the Army "forcibly" asked Sofi and one of his cousins accompanying him to come along with them.

Coming only weeks after the killing of a teacher in Kupwara by a soldier for no valid reasons, the death of Sofi has given more fodder to separatists and even the mainstream parties, including the National Conference and the PDP, have urged the government to take appropriate measures to restore trust of people.

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