Troops break police siege: Thousands of Indian soldiers mount a raid in Srinagar to rescue a chief officer besieged by his own men

THE Indian army was called out in the Himalayan mountain city of Srinagar yesterday to rescue a state police chief under siege by thousands of his own officers.

Armed Kashmiri officers, who are predominantly Muslim, had barricaded the Director General of Police, B S Bedi, inside police headquarters and were demanding the arrest of a senior official, Rajendra Kumar, a Hindu. The police accused Superintendent Kumar of failing to prevent the death of a Muslim constable last week in army custody.

Human rights activists claim more than 250 Kashmiri youths have died during interrogation by Indian security forces since civil unrest first erupted around three years ago in the picturesque valley ringed by peaks. Government officials claim, however, that the constable, Riaz Ahmed, was killed in the crossfire during a shoot- out between Kashmiri militants and the army.

Army and paramilitary forces on Tuesday evening took up firing positions with mortars and machine-guns on the rooftops of buildings overlooking the police compound. Shots were exchanged throughout Tuesday night but no injuries were reported. Then, shortly before dawn, more than 3,000 troops, backed by armoured vehicles, raided the Srinagar police headquarters and disarmed the rebel policemen. The police chief was freed unharmed, and some reports claimed the revolt's leaders had been arrested.

Earlier, the army had taken control of other local police stations around the Kashmir valley, where Muslim separatists have been fighting a virtual civil war against 300,000 Indian security forces.

Police officers, who were joined in their five-day protest strike over the constable's death by firemen and traffic wardens, on Tuesday marched through Srinagar towards the police headquarters shouting 'Long live Hindu-Muslim unity' and 'Withdraw the army'. Then they surrounded the police compound where Chief Bedi and his staff were.

Even though a showdown was averted between the local police and the army, government officials in Kashmir were reported by Srinagar journalists to be 'in a state of panic' over the event. Indian security forces, even before the siege, were often distrustful of the Kashmiri police brigades whom they suspected of sympathising with Muslim insurgents who want to free the region from Delhi's control.

(Photograph omitted)