SRINAGAR: A civilian has been shot dead by the Army in Ganawpora village of the restive south Kashmir’s Shopian today after five militants were gunned down in an encounter in the adjoining Kiloora village.

Witnesses said a group of youth, who were protesting the killing of militants, pelted stones at Army soldiers deployed in Ganawpora village soon after the funeral of Arshad Khan, one of the slain militants killed in the encounter, was over.

“The Army soldiers fired bullets directly at the protesters, resulting in injuries to three persons. They were taken to Shopian district hospital where one of them identified as Bilal Ahmad Khan, was declared dead on arrival,” witnesses said.

The condition of the other two is reported to be out of danger.

Meanwhile, at least 20 protesters were injured, two of them critically, in clashes with security forces near the site of an encounter in south Kashmir’s Shopian district where five militants have been gunned down so far.

This is the first major encounter in Kashmir Valley after the fall of the PDP-BJP coalition government paved way for Governor rule in the state. The BJP had pulled out of the coalition citing worsening security situation in the state.

Witnesses and sources said a joint team of J&K Police’s special operations group and Army laid siege of Kiloora village last night following inputs about the presence of a group of militants in a residential house in the area.

“When we zeroed in on the suspect house, the hiding militants opened fire on the forces which was resulted. In the initial exchange of gunfire, a militant was killed while four other managed to take refuge inside the house,” sources said.

As the night set in, forces illuminated the house with floodlights and a curfew was imposed in the village to prevent residents from coming out of their homes and helping the holed-up militants in escaping.

“The operation was resumed today morning. However, defying curfew and restrictions, locals staged protests around the house where the militants were hiding and attacked security forces with stones, triggering clashes,” an Army official said.

To disperse the protesters, forces resorted to teargas shelling and also fired pellets and bullets, resulting in injuries to at least 20 persons, health officials said, of whom five were referred to Srinagar for special treatment.

“One of the injured had a bullet injury in shoulder,” a doctor at Shopian district hospital, where the injured were brought from treatment, said.

Meanwhile, the Army said five militants have been gunned down in the ongoing operation. The slain have been identified as Arshad Ahmad of Ganowpora Balpora, Waqar Ahmad Sheikh and Umar Malik, both from Malikgund and Aijaz Ahmad Paul of Lousdanew.

Director General of Police said the five militants were apparently affiliated with Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit. Authorities have suspended mobile internet service in Shopian to prevent deterioration of law and order situation.

(Cover Photograph by BASIT ZARGAR)