South Kashmir is on the boil after six civilians were killed and over 40 injured when an explosive went off at the site of an encounter in Kulgam's Laroo village on Sunday. Three terrorists were killed in the encounter that ended just minutes earlier.
Security forces had just retreated from the site following the encounter that started on Saturday night and ended at around 10.30 am. Soon, people rushed to the encounter site, ignoring advisories about unexploded shells at the gunfight spot. At 10.50 am, there was a huge explosion, leaving dozens injured. They were rushed to a hospital where six succumbed to their wounds.
"Civilians visited the encounter site immediately after the operation despite requests not to do so, as a thorough search needed to be done for explosives once the flames were doused. Some explosive went off, resulting in injuries," said a police spokesperson.
District development commissioner of Kulgam, Dr Shameem Ahmad Wani, said people were trying to clean the debris when the explosion took place. "The civilians weren't killed in cross-fire; the explosion happened post-encounter. They were trying to clear the debris after security forces retreated," he said.
Massive clashes and stone-pelting then rocked the area, prompting authorities to impose prohibitory orders under Section 144. "We are assessing the situation. We have imposed Section 144, and will take a call on imposing curfew soon," Dr Wani said.
Governor's advisor K Vijay Kumar and director general of police, Dilbag Singh, expressed deep anguish and regret over the loss of civilian lives. "As per reports, civilians rushed to the site after the encounter was over, resulting in casualties in the blast, as the area was yet to be sanitizsed," they said in a joint statement.
The killings also evoked sharp reactions from the separatists who called for a shutdown on Monday and a march to Lal Chowk on Tuesday. "Kashmir has been turned into a slaughterhouse where no young, old, child or woman is safe. Kashmiris will observe a total strike on Monday, while on Tuesday, people with the JRL leadership will march to Lal Chowk," a spokesman said.