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Mufti healing touch for Malik

Srinagar Nov. 11: Peace and violence walked hand in hand in the Valley today as the new chief minister unconditionally freed a rebel leader from jail but seven security personnel were blown up on a national highway.

Sticking by the pro-peace agenda of the new coalition government, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed set free Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Yasin Malik, revoking his detention under the Public Safety Act. But militants marked their presence almost simultaneously, setting off a landmine blast near Ramsu on the Srinagar-Jammu highway and killing seven Central Reserve Police Force jawans.

Malik’s release came while the chief minister — on a visit to the Valley — was chairing a district development board meeting at the Sheri Kashmir International Conference Centre.

The separatist leader, lodged in Kotbalwal jail, was brought in a plane to Srinagar under tight security. State police took custody of him the minute he stepped out of the aircraft, and whisked him off to the joint interrogation centre.

Scores of JKLF supporters, who rushed to the airport on hearing news of Malik’s release, had to return to the JKLF headquarters in Maisuma empty-handed. The police finally freed him late in the evening.

Since then, several hundreds of loyalists have been thronging his home. “I have been released unconditionally and I will brief the press tomorrow,” Malik said.

The Centre has officially not reacted to the release but officials said it was not likely to create problems. State government sources said firebrand Jamaat Islami leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani and People’s League chief Shiekh Abdul Aziz were also likely to be released soon.

Malik was arrested on March 25 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act following the recovery of $100,000 from a former party activist during a routine search near Batote. Police claimed the money was meant to fund Malik’s separatist activities.

A designated court in Jammu released Malik on bail in July but the police re-arrested him minutes later under the Public Safety Act. Malik, who is suffering from serious kidney and heart ailments, was taken to Delhi for treatment.

Even as Mufti stuck to his promise to free all jailed separatist leaders, violence spiralled with militants targeting a CRPF vehicle going to Jammu. Police said the militants planted an improvised explosive device on the highway, which went off when the vehicle ran over it. “Three CRPF jawans died on the spot while 10 others were critically wounded,” a police officer said.

Four critically wounded soldiers died in Banihal hospital. Others were rushed to Udhampur for specialised treatment. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast.

In the morning, militants gunned down a prominent National Conference activist at Dalal Mohalla in the interiors of the city. Militants opened fire on Ghulam Nabi Chetsaz from close range near his home.

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