SRINAGAR, April 11 - Three militants cornered by security forces managed to escape after a prolonged fire-fight in south Kashmir�s Kulgam district even as a jawan was killed in action while four civilian onlookers lost their lives in the crossfire, officials said.
Briefing reporters, senior police officers said there was specific intelligence about the presence of three local militants owing allegiance to Pakistan-based terror group Lashker-e-Taiba at a house in the Khudwani area following which a cordon was thrown at 10 pm last night.
The security forces suffered a setback at the beginning itself when a jawan � Sapper Sada Gunakara Rao (24) � was injured and rushed to the Army base hospital here. Rao, who hailed from Andhra Pradesh, succumbed to his injuries.
Meanwhile, the gunfight outside the house where the militants were holed up continued with bullets flying in every direction, they said. The house was on the bank of Jhelum and locals started gathering on the other side of the river, officials said.
Repeated requests were made to the onlookers to leave the area as they were within the firing range. However, the warnings went unheeded and four civilians were killed, they said. However, some people in Kulgam alleged that the four were killed when security forces opened fire on a crowd that was proceeding towards the encounter site.
Police officials said that after the civilians were killed in the crossfire, the operation had to be called off for a brief time, to allow police and CRPF to disperse the mob that had gathered across the river.
There were clashes between protesters and security forces and 24 people sustained injuries, they said. While majority were sent home, around seven were still in hospital and their condition was stable, they said.
As the news of civilian deaths spread, protests broke out in several areas of north Kashmir, including Baramulla, Bandipora and Sopore towns, officials said. Several security force personnel, including the station house officer of Baramulla police station, were injured in stone-pelting by the protestors.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who called on Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in the morning in New Delhi, flew to Srinagar instead of Jammu to review the law-and-order situation in the valley.
Meanwhile, separatists under the banner of Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) called for a general strike tomorrow against the �civilian killings.� � PTI