SRINAGAR: Four security personnel, including two from the Jammu and Kashmir Police’s elite Special Operations Group, were killed while four suspected militants have been gunned down in a deadly, ongoing encounter in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Three personnel including a sub inspector level officer have been injured.

Sources said the other two slain personnel are army soldiers. The identity of the militants has not been disclosed so far but four bodies have been recovered from a forested area near Check Fatehkhan of Halmatpura village in Kupwara where the encounter is underway since yesterday afternoon.

The Army claimed to have gunned down four militants in the area yesterday afternoon during a routine search operation. The police however didn’t corroborate the claim, saying that the bodies have not been recovered from the site so far.

Witnesses told The Citizen intermittent firing and explosions were heard in the forested area with the army and police laying a siege last night to prevent militants from escaping under the cover of darkness. Today morning, the Army claimed to have recovered bodies of three suspected militants. Para-commandos of the army were also engaged to help take out the gunmen.

“The operation is in its last leg. One more militant is hiding in the area who is firing at the forces,” a senior police officer said, adding that war-like ammunition and some important documents have been recovered from the dead militants.

Director General of J&K Police, SP Vaid tweeted the fourth “body of terrorist” has been recovered from encounter site of Kupwara, “Firing still continues, unfortunately 2 brave hearts of J&K Police martyred & one of TA,” he said, confirming the killing of only one army soldier.

According to reports in local media, the slain SOG men have been identified as Deepak Pandit and Mohammad Yusuf. One of the slain territorial army soldier was identified as Mohammad Ashraf who is a resident of Kashmir.

The encounter comes as the J&K government has reportedly offered a cash reward for militants who shun the path of violence and are willing to return the mainstream. According to the offer, each militant will be given six lakh rupees when he surrenders and the government will also help in the process of rehabilitation.

Earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the three security agencies in the Valley — J&K Police, Army and the CRPF — had proposed a policy to offer cash rewards to the family members of militants who surrender. The policy however didn’t take off with the enthusiasm it was launched.

J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has repeatedly asked the security forces to encourage militants caught in encounters to surrender, but it has been followed by more aggressive measures on ground as forces fight a two-fronted war with militants on one hand and locals, who come to their rescue, on the other. At least two militants have surrendered during encounters in last two years.