The driver of a taxi being used by soldiers was killed during a massive operation involving 4,000 troops on Thursday by the security forces to clear south Kashmir of terrorists.
The civilian Sumo driver ferrying soldiers returning from a daylong anti-militancy operation in Shopian was killed when militants ambushed the vehicle. Three soldiers were also injured in the attack.
Soldiers from Army's 62 Rashtriya Rifles battalion were returning in the private Tata Sumo vehicle to their Imamsahib camp after carrying out searches in the area.
The driver, Nazir Sheikh of Kachdoora, died when the vehicle came under militant fire at Baskuchan Imamsahb at about 6 pm.
The militants reportedly struck when army troops were carrying out a "reverse sweep" in the area. Reverse sweep is a term used by army in which they carry out a surprise check of a location after having combed it earlier in the day.
Tens of hundreds of soldiers launched a major search operation in about two dozen villages in Shopian district, including Zainapora, Darazpora, Turkiwungam, Sugan, Kashoo, Maldera, Urpora, Aripora, Ladi , Nagbal, Molu Chitragam, Kungnoo. Heff kuri, Warpora, Kenigom, Human, Chillipora and Dragad.
The forces conducted house to house searches, locals said.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat said it was a "regular operation" conducted to "make sure that the situation is brought under control" in Kashmir. "Every day we do it. There is nothing new. Today's operation is happening because banks have been looted and police personnel have been killed," Gen Rawat said in New Delhi.
Reports said drones and helicopters hovered above the sparsely populated villages spread between sprawling orchards of apples in Shopian. Force personnel stood guard on roads and entry points, preventing people from coming or going out of their areas.
Amid, tight security, witnesses said, people, including women came out and tried to disrupt the operation by pelting stones and hurling bricks.
''The government forces retaliated by lobbing teargas shells and firing pellets resulting into injuries to at least dozen people,'' witnesses told news agencies.
They said most of the injured were treated locally. ''Two of the injured were hospitalized,'' they added.
Later, additional forces were rushed to the villages to chase away the stone-pelting civilians.
''People had put logs of woods, boulders and rocks on the roads to prevent government forces from proceeding towards the villages,'' witnesses added.
Meanwhile, locals in Turkiwangam, Mandera , Urpora and Sugan villages alleged that forces went berserk by barging into the houses and damaging the property.
''The forces without any provocation smashed the window panes of houses, ransacked goods and also damaged vehicles parked nearby,'' said locals.
One of the inhabitants of Turkiwangam - Abdul Rashid Lone, whose daughter is supposed to get married on 8 May, alleged that his house was damaged by the force personnel. ''The forces barged into the kitchen of my house, smashed window panes and broke almirahs and destroyed kitchen accessories,'' he alleged.
The women folk in the village were seen weeping at the loss of their hard earned property. Gulzar Ahmad – who sells disposable items – told Greater Kashmir that the forces personnel ran away with the items.
The search operation followed the recent spurt in militant activities in South Kashmir districts of Puwama, Shopian and Kulgam. On Tuesday night, gunmen decamped with five rifles from police guards posted at the Shopian district court complex. The incident took place only a day after militants attacked a cash van in Kulgam district killing five policemen besides taking away their weapons, two bank guards were also killed in the shoot-out.
Further, bank robbery incidents by armed men have also been on rise in south Kashmir. On Wednesday gunmen stormed the Ellaquai Dehati Bank and JK Bank in Pulwama district and looted cash.
Prior to that there have been many militant attacks on mainstream political workers in south Kashmir resulting into killings and injuries to a few. The militants had also barged into houses of political workers and asked them to end from political activities. The militants had also been barging into houses of policemen in South Kashmir warning them against getting involved in anti-militancy operations and at times asking them to quit.
"We were told to move out of our houses early in the morning. We saw army men all around as if a war had broken out. We didn't know what was happening," Syed Arsalan, 20, a student told IANS over phone from Shopian.
Last week, at least two video clips appeared on social networking sites with gun toting militants in battle fatigues marching in apple orchards in what appeared to be the landscape of Shopian.