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Sopore tense over separatist commander's death

india Updated: May 04, 2010 14:57 IST

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North Kashmir's Sopore town remained tense for the third day on Tuesday over the mysterious death of a local separatist guerrilla commander. The commander's family alleged he was killed in a gun battle with the Indian Army while the police refuted the claims.

All markets and educational institutions remained shut and transport was off the roads in Sopore for the third day even as some youth pelted stones at security forces Tuesday morning.

The father of Basharat Saleem, the divisional commander of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), said someone called him using Saleem's mobile phone, confirming that he had been killed in a gun battle with the Army in the Machil sector on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kupwara district Saturday.

Saleem's family said another guerrilla accompanying him at the time of the encounter had also confirmed his death.

Saleem, a computer engineer belonging to Batpora locality of Sopore town, had joined the ranks of separatist guerrillas four years ago.

While earlier reports said Saleem was killed in a group clash between the HuM and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), an HuM spokesperson called a local news agency maintaining that the commander was killed in a gun battle between the Army and the guerrillas.

However, the police refuted the claims.

A.Q. Manhas, deputy inspector general of police (DIG) north Kashmir range told reporters: "Basharat Saleem was at the top of our wanted list and he carried a cash reward of Rs.10 lakh on his head."

"If the security forces had killed him, someone from the security forces would have claimed the reward," he added.

"We have no evidence to prove that Saleem was killed in the Machil encounter. The photographs of the three slain militants also indicate that Saleem was not among those slain in the Machil encounter," a police officer said.

In the absence of the guerrilla commander's body, the family has decided to hold his fourth day funeral prayers Tuesday.

His family members also visited the forest area where the three guerrillas killed in the encounter were buried by the security forces.

"The forest area is spread over a vast piece of land and we could not locate any graves there," a relative of Saleem told reporters in Sopore Monday.

Saleem had managed to give the slip to the security forces at least four times when cordons were laid on specific information about his presence at different places in Sopore town during the last six months.