As the number of militants is fast dwindling in Kashmir as per latest government assessment, separatist groups, for the first time since militancy broke out in 1989, on Tuesday called for "respecting armed men's right in the conflict zone".
"The killing of a youth under mysterious circumstances and passing them as gun-battles have become a norm in the past two decades in Kashmir," alleged hardline Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Geelani (84).
Apparently seeking rights for armed men or militants on the lines of other conflict zones of the world, Geelani claimed, "The army was killing youths unawares while they were just passing through jungles without challenging them. In many cases, locals claim youths were first picked up and killed in custody."
He said all incidents where locals are suspicious of the circumstances under which the men were killed should be probed by the United Nation's war tribunal.
"The recent incidents where youths were killed in remote jungles and far-off places need to be probed. Such far-off spots are chosen to kill where there are no eyewitnesses around," alleged Geelani.
He referred to the incidents of Pathribal and Machil, where the locals accused the army of allegedly killing civilians in staged encounters. The army, however, has initiated court martial proceedings in both the cases.
"These two incidents are reason enough to doubt encounters taking place in the hinterland," said Geelani.
The valley's civil society group, J-K Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) , has also called for a probe in all unmarked graves.
"In Jammu and Kashmir, there are 7,000 unmarked and mass graves as a result of killings of unidentified people in the so-called encounters carried out by security forces. It seems on Monday, the army at Lolab tried to add seven more people to the number of unmarked graves," said JK CCS coordinator Khurram Parvez, while demanding probe in such cases.
On Monday afternoon, the army killed seven militants in jungles of Lolab. A defence spokesman claimed the foreign militants first attacked the patrol and were killed when the security personnel returned fire.
The army has always rebutted the allegations of separatists. It recently clarified that it follows the standard operational procedure, wherein "militants are first asked to surrender, and are killed only in retaliatory fire".
Separatist groups seeking rights of militants have come as the security forces are gaining upper hand in the valley.
At least 18 militants, including the 45-year-old divisional commander of Hizbul Mujahideen among others, have been killed this year.
A police census puts the number of militants across the valley at 108 only. A rough estimate puts the number of militants active in early 1990s at more than 20,000.
"We should accept that the situation has improved. The militant activities have come down by 70% in the last five years during our coalition government," chief minister Omar Abdullah told the legislative Assembly two days ago.