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Slain father, son branded foreign mercenaries

Srinagar, Sept. 26: Two “top foreign terrorists” felled by security forces in the dense north Kashmir forests on Tuesday have been identified — 60-year-old Ghulam Nabi Khan and his 25-year-old son Nissar Ahmad from Kupwara.

Kupwara is not “foreign” but well within India in northern Kashmir, and the father and son had gone looking for lost cattle when the “encounter” took place.

The two would have been buried as “foreign mercenaries” — a label tagged on the men by the security forces who gunned them down — but for a police officer who spotted the bodies and recognised them as fellow residents of Warnav village, near Lolab, in Kupwara.

The special police officer happened to be at the spot by chance when the bodies were handed to Bandipora police station in Baramullah for burial.

The “encounter” was reported on a day General Pervez Musharraf was warming up in America to lecture Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other leaders at the UN on the human rights violations in Kashmir.

Allegations of fake encounters are the biggest blot on the security forces’ operations in Kashmir, which often gift Pakistan an excuse to claim the moral high ground in international fora.

Security forces had claimed on Tuesday that they had gunned down three top Lashkar-e-Toiba militants in an encounter in the Lashkote Malangam forest of Baramullah.

They identified the men as Hameed, Abu Umar and Abu Viqas and said they were all residents of Pakistan. The security forces also claimed that three AK-47 rifles, seven grenades, a wireless set and 112 rounds of ammunition were found on the slain men.

“Two of the three ‘foreign mercenaries’ killed in the Malangam encounter have finally turned out to be local villagers who had gone looking for cattle in a north Kashmir forest,” a senior police officer in Baramullah, requesting anonymity, said.

Relatives confirmed to the police that the father-son duo had gone into the forests looking for their lost cattle. The dense pine forests are used as grazing ground by residents of most foothill hamlets. Usually, the grazing cattle find their way back home at the end of the day, but sometimes they stray deep into the forest and have to be fetched.

The bodies of Ghulam Nabi and Nissar were yesterday handed over to the shocked family, who silently took them home and performed the last rites.

The police have now started an investigation into the identity of the third “militant”.

Last year, DNA tests had proved that five persons killed in an “encounter” in Anantnag in 2000 were local civilians and not foreign militants as the police had claimed.

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