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Jammu-Rajouri highway reopens for traffic after 2 weeks

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Search operation in Poonch, Rajouri forests enters 21st day

Jammu: The authorities reopened a stretch of the Jammu-Rajouri national highway for traffic on Sunday morning, more than two weeks after it was shut in view of an ongoing counter-insurgency operation in an adjoining dense forest belt, officials said.

The operation to track down a group of hiding militants, who are responsible for the killing of nine soldiers, in Bhatti Durrian forest in Mendhar along with Surankote forest in Poonch and nearby Thanamandi in Rajouri district entered the 21st day on Sunday, the officials said.

While the operation is underway, the authorities allowed traffic on the main highway between Bhimber Gali in Mendhar and Jera Wali Gali in Surankote in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district, much to the relief of residents, especially taxi operators who have been demanding its reopening.

The road stretch, which passes along the cordoned-off forest belt, was closed as a precautionary measure on October 15, a day after four army personnel, including a JCO, were killed in an exchange of fire with the hiding militants in Bhatti Durrian forest, the officials said.

The operation started in Surankote forest on October 11 following the killing of five soldiers, including a JCO, and was subsequently extended to Mendhar to neutralize the fleeing militants.

A Pakistani militant, who was moved from the Kot Bhalwal Central Jail in Jammu to Mendhar on police remand for questioning in connection with the ongoing operation, was killed “when the security forces accompanying him to identify a hideout came under fire from hiding terrorists on October 24”.

The contact with the hiding militants was only established twice on October 11 at Surankote and Thanamandi and again at Bhatti Durrian on October 14, the officials said. After the firing on October 24 in Bhatti Durrian which left the Pakistani militant killed, there was no contact with the hiding militants.

A major part of the forest belt was cleared to allow the authorities to reopen the highway and villagers to resume normal activities, the officials said.

They said there was no breakthrough against the holed up militants who are avoiding direct contact with the search parties and are on the run taking advantage of thick foliage, natural caves and difficult terrain.

“The operation is now going on deep inside the forest with a number of natural caves. The search parties are clearing the caves and moving cautiously to neutralize the suspected terrorists,” an official said.

Over a dozen persons, including two women, were detained so far for questioning after it came to light that they allegedly provided “logistic support, including food and shelter to the terrorists,” the officials said.

Rajouri and Poonch in Jammu region have witnessed a rise in infiltration attempts since June this year, resulting in the killing of nine militants in separate encounters.

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