Amid protests, the body of a 70-year-old man, who was “declared” a militant and killed in an encounter in the Mahora (Rainawari) forest area in Kupwara district, was exhumed on Saturday. The police have registered a case against the Army.

A high-level team of civil and police officials visited Magam village, where the slain man was laid to rest by the local Auqaf Committee. On the orders of Deputy Commissioner Showkat A Mir, the body was exhumed and handed over to his family for last rites.

Protests

Reports here said hundreds of people had staged demonstrations at Magam, Handwara, Lolab and other parts of the border district demanding that the body of Habibullah Khan be exhumed and the Army personnel involved in his killing be punished.

A local news agency KNS reported that a murder case was registered against the local Army unit responsible for dubbing him a militant.

Habibullah Khan was “mentally retarded. He had no direct or indirect involvement with militancy,” said Lolab MLA Abdul Haq Khan, who arrived at main chowk, Kupwara, where protests were under way. He assured the protesters of action against the Army.

Ex gratia

The State government has sanctioned an ex gratia of Rs. 1 lakh and a job for the next of kin of the deceased man.

Army’s claim

On Wednesday, the Srinagar-based Army spokesman said his men and police had killed an unknown militant in an encounter at Handwara. One AK assault rifle, four magazines and 67 rounds were recovered from his possession.

“Our patrol parties, along with the police, had an exchange of fire in the Rainawari forest. In the ensuing encounter, the lone militant was killed,” the spokesman said.

But the police contested the Army version, saying they had no role in the operation.

New twist

The Army’s encounter claim took a new twist when a Lolab youth, Raj Mohammad, visited the Magam police post and identified the slain “militant” as his father, Habibullah Khan, son of Saida Khan of Devar, Lolab.

But a statement issued by an Army spokesman on Saturday said: “On the night of 13-14 April, a surveillance-cum-ambush party of 6 Rashtriya Rifles, in the general area of the Rainawari forest, observed suspicious movements of three or four militants. On being challenged, a firefight ensued between the militants and this party. After the encounter, which lasted 10-15 minutes, the militants managed to break contact and escape in the thick jungles. Consequently, the area was searched and one body was recovered; the body of the slain person, along with one AK-47 with ammunition found in close vicinity, was handed over to the police on the morning of April 14 and an FIR lodged.”

The Army statement said: “As per our assessment, this was a group of militants and possibly the deceased was being exploited as a guide or human shield. It is believed that the weapon and ammunition recovered were possibly dropped by the fleeing militants.”