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Friday, October 19, 2001

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Kathua favourite entry point for infiltrators

By Shujaat Bukhari

KATHUA, OCT. 18. Against much talked about ``build-up'' along the borders, Kathua's 60-km-long international border is relatively calm but of late it has emerged as one of the favourable routes of infiltration for militants. That is why over 2,500 militants are waiting at the Shakargarh training camp. The alertness on this side has however prevented any major bid of Pakistanis to push the militants.

Borders in the Jammu region, unlike Kashmir, are very open. Troops on both sides used to have eye-to-eye contact but large bushes have been playing host to the militants who sneak into this side. Spread over vast areas, the bushes are so large that for days one cannot have an inkling about the presence of militants, once they enter this area. But the authorities have been on alert on the zero line itself which is the first destination of any group. ``We try to prevent their entry at the very first stage,'' said a senior officer. The international border is essentially manned by the Border Security Forces followed by the Army and police check posts. The latter is being supported by village defence committees.

On Monday when the Army ``taught a lesson'' to Pakistan for aiding, abetting and facilitating militants' entry, a retaliatory action was expected in this sector where intermittent firing has been a routine. But to the surprise of troops on this side, the Pakistanis did not open fire.

``For six months the borders were completely calm and there was hardly any firing incident at least on the international border,'' a BSF official told The Hindu. But he admitted that tension increased in the past weeks particularly after the US strikes in Afghanistan started. The residents have been cautioned by the authorities about a possible flare up along the borders.

As this reporter visited a number of forward areas, the tension was palpable there was hardly any indication of a ``build-up''. Sources said that routine exercises of the Army had in fact been extended.

But a change is visible in the hinterland where the presence of the Army is being felt, especially after the Jammu region was brought under the Disturbed Areas Act in August.

Since the area is prone to militant movement the Army is involved in certain kind of preventive operation, says Mr. Manohar Singh, SP, Kathua. According to intelligence reports, over 2,500 militants were waiting to cross after acquiring training and were presently lodged at the Shakargarh launching centre.

Kathua is becoming a favoured infiltration route for various reasons. Many types of militants sneak to this side. If the militants whose destination is Doda and Udhampur or even Kashmir find the route unsafe for carrying arms and ammunition, they simply dump it and move onto the National Highway.

They come back later to pick up the arms. The deep `nallahs' (channels), which are not only deep but also zig-zag have been playing host to militants who come with enough food supplies. The `nallahs' connect them to Doda and in a way work as road map for them.

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