The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jammu battle without last bullet

Jammu, Sept. 4: More than 50 hours after the longest encounter in the region began in the jungles of Ghatti village in Kathua district, the targeted militants continued to be elusive.

The army today launched a massive search of the jungles in the Jammu region to assess the results of its fight with the seven armed militants who had infiltrated from across the International Border between Monday night and early Tuesday.

More than 1,500 soldiers tiptoed through the thick foliage and 8-9 feet high maize crop, scanning the thicket, alert against both snakes and explosives that the militants might have laid as a trap.

“It is a challenging task and only those who are conducting the searches under such unforgiving environment can tell you what it means,” an army officer at the spot said.

The day began with the gunbattle picking up intensity after slowing down overnight. Guns, rocket launchers and grenades have been booming in Ghatti for the past two days after local police and members of the village defence committee chased the militants into the forests.

The exchange of fire lasted till noon when the militants stopped retaliating. Soldiers launched search operations during the prolonged lull that followed.

“It is very difficult at this stage to say as to what might have happened,” inspector-general of police P.L. Gupta said. “Now our priority is to get the bodies of the militants and till that time, from our point of view, searches are on.”

He, however, warned that “the last bullet has not been fired yet, I would say this much”. Gupta has been keeping a close watch over the developments from Jammu since the encounter started on Tuesday.

For the villagers, the gunbattle has been no less than a mini war. Elderly Chajju Ram told reporters that he felt “we would have to live with this kind of terrorism”.

His fears were founded on the general feeling that the militants had succeeded in disrupting life in the village and spreading a scare among the residents.

Yet, they pitched in to help the army by carrying water for the soldiers and, at times, helping them ferry boxes of ammunition to the fighting frontlines spread over a stretch of more than 2 sq km.

The kandi or the rugged terrain of Ghatti, just 10 km from the International Border with Pakistan, however, is no stranger to such gunbattles. But never before has one lasted for more than two or three hours.

When the latest encounter began on Tuesday afternoon, the army had not expected an intense and prolonged exchange. As both sides got down to guns and grenades, the militants apparently took the army by surprise by putting up the long fight.

Ghatti is also militants’ route to the mountains of Doda, where they have their hideouts in the caves and among the high ridges.

The army believes that the group of seven militants was out to attempt a big strike to avenge last weekend’s killing of Gazi Baba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad operations chief in Kashmir, as it infiltrated into India immediately after the militant leader’s death.

Earlier, on Tuesday, police had expressed similar fears after trying to trap the militants in a cordon. Four policemen were wounded in the ensuing exchange of fire.

A string of gunbattles and bombings has echoed across Jammu and Kashmir since the day after a radio message attributed to the Jaish, exhorting its gunmen to “inflict sorrow and death” on those celebrating Baba’s killing, was intercepted.

Poonch attack foiled

The army’s sentries at the brigade headquarters in Kamsar area of Poonch town early on Thursday killed two fidayeen, who tried to enter the camp by exploding grenades and firing with their assault rifles.

An army spokesman said the militants attacked the camp at 5 am. One of the militants was killed on the spot and the other was chased and killed when he rushed to the houses nearby. A young woman was killed and three children were injured in the crossfire.

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