Gosani Naar, (Pampore), Oct 9: Militants believed to be hiding in dense Khrew forests in south Kashmir have seemingly managed to give a slip to the police and troopers as no contact has been established with them for past two days, a top police official told Greater Kashmir on Friday.
"Had militants been holed up in the forests by now they would have been located. Search parties failing to establish any contact indicates that militants have managed to escape," the official said.
Police official's version was seconded by the locals they said that they hadn't heard any gunshots during day from Thursday. "But during night we heard intermittent gunshots. This morning also we heard a few of them," said Ghulam Muhammad Shikari, a shopkeeper at Gosani Naar.
Shikari, who had opened his shop after three days, said that he saw the helicopters being used during the search operations. "The helicopters hovered to low on the mountains. But they have now stopped making rounds of the area," he added.
"This is the last village in this area. Beyond this point there are only some 20 to 30 Gujjar hutments up in the forests," said another villager, as reinforcements in armored police and army vehicles drove up into the forests. The troopers didn't allow any civilian movement beyond the Gosani naar village.
"On Tuesday and Wednesday heavy exchange of fire took place between the militants and troopers. On Wednesday we saw the body of a militant but since then there has been no activity from the other side despite troops strengthening the cordon. It seems the militant who was killed had engaged the search party while his other associates managed to escape," said a villager wishing anonymity.
He said panic had gripped area since Tuesday when the encounter commenced. "We didn't venture out of our homes for two days. Today we moved out but the heavy presence of army and police is making us feel uncomfortable," he said.
The fear was writ on the faces of villagers. "After army and police call off the operation we may have to face a tough time," said a youth.
A group of policemen and troopers seemed exhausted. "We've spent four days here and there is no guarantee about militants still being present in the area. By now they may have crossed over to Kishtwar," they said.
It may be recalled that police had claimed that eight to ten militants responsible for carrying out car bombing near Central Jail in Srinagar last month were hiding in the forests. A militant was killed and four troopers were injured in the initial round of firing.
"The search operation is currently underway and it will go on. It is a dense jungle with rough terrain. We are going deep into the forests to look out for militants," said the superintendent of police, Awantipora, Bashir Ahmad Khan, who also led a search team.
He said the searches would continue till the area was secured. Asked if the searches were being carried out from the Tral side, the SP said, "We are focusing on this (Khrew) side."
Asked about the number of militants hiding in the forests, he said, "One militant was killed on Tuesday and since then a search operation was launched, but till now no contact has been established with them."
Army's Srinagar based spokesman Lt Col J S Brar, said that army had made no assessment of the number of militants present in the area but added that the search operation was on. "Militants had attacked the police party and army was called in later," he added.
The defence sources said that chances of militants hiding in the Khrew forests were remote. " Most search parties have returned. It seems militants may have crossed over to Tral or even further," they added.
However, the army spokesman maintained that searches were on.