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BSF bracing for offensive against militants

By Shujaat Bukhari

HUMHAMA, MAY 24. Hundreds of Border Security Force (BSF) jawans and officers today bid a tearful adieu to their colleagues who died when militants detonated a powerful improvised explosive device (IED) as their convoy was passing through the Srinagar-Jammu national highway on Sunday.

The BSF Director General, Ajai Raj Sharma, said that his force was bracing for a major offensive against militants, particularly those responsible for Sunday's attack. Mr. Sharma, who led a column of jawans and officers to lay wreaths on the coffins, said that there may have been a security lapse. The incident would be investigated and the responsibility fixed, he promised.

The Special Secretary in the Home Ministry, B.B. Mishra, the Inspector General of Police, Kashmir zone, K. Rajindra, the Inspector General of BSF, Kashmir Frontier, Vijay Raman, the DIG, BSF, K. Srinivasan, and host of officers attended the solemn ceremony at the Subsidiary Training Centre of the BSF here. Mr. Sharma had flown in to Srinagar last evening with Mr. Mishra.

``We have to be more careful and alert. We must locate militants hiding in the State and neutralise them,'' Mr. Sharma said. ``It was a revenge attack because some important leaders and office-bearers (of the Hizbul Mujahideen) were recently killed. So this is not the end of the story.'' The toll in the incident, he said, had gone up to 29.

Mr. Sharma said that the operations against militants in Kashmir were well coordinated. He described the attack on the BSF personnel who were proceeding on leave as an act of cowardice. ``This is a major incident. Things had been quiet normal, but all of a sudden this incident has happened and it should serve as an alarm.'' Identification process had gone on through the night and it was established that 12 of those killed were BSF soldiers and the rest their relatives.

Mr. Sharma said the incident had not demoralised the troops. ``On the contrary, they are all charged up and want to nab the culprits responsible for the attack.'' Asked about the families of some of the personnel travelling in the same vehicle, he said it was a welfare measure. ``Families are allowed to travel with the personnel while proceeding on leave or joining duty. This is nothing out of the way.''

Meanwhile, security along the 300 kilometre Srinagar-Jammu national highway has been tightened. An IED was neutralised by the forces and another was defused by the bomb disposal squad this morning in the same area. ``We are reviewing security arrangements to ensure the safety of the civilians and security forces,'' the IGP, Mr. Rajindra, said.

Security has been beefed up in and around the 2500 metre long Jawahar Tunnel, the only surface link between Kashmir and rest of the country. The tunnel is just 5 kilometres from the site of Sunday's blast.

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