Hundreds of protesters have blocked a section of a main highway that runs through Indian-administered Kashmir over the killing of two men who worked as labourers at an Indian army base, officials and residents said.
Residents said the men were shot dead earlier on Friday by army guards at the entrance of the base in Rajouri district, 150km (95 miles) south of the disputed region’s main city of Srinagar.
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The Indian military said the two men – identified as Surinder Kumar and Kamal Kishore – were killed by armed rebels outside the military hospital in Rajouri. A third man was injured in the incident.
Protesters burned tyres and pelted the military base with stones hours after the shooting, said a police official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
A resident of Phayalana village in Rajouri told Al Jazeera the two slain civilians lived in the same village. He alleged they were “killed by the army without any reason”.
“They were going for their routine work towards the army camp when the guard opened fire at them. They worked as labourers inside the camp for more than a decade. The third person with them was wounded,” he said on condition of anonymity.
“These people were poor labourers who have small children – one of them has three kids while the other has two. Their families are devastated.”
The army in a statement blamed “unidentified terrorists” for opening fire.
Garu Saneha, a politician in Rajouri with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said residents were not ready to accept the army’s claim.
“The army is saying these people were killed by militants but I want to ask them that if their argument is true, why didn’t they launch a search and cordon operation? They are lying. They [the army] did not come out of the camp the whole day,” he told Al Jazeera.
“We have demanded jobs and monetary help to the families and the administration has agreed,” he said.
By not clarifying about the killings of two civilians, police, Army and Admin in #Rajouri are deepening the suspicion of locals and people of #JammuKashmir at large. The incident must be probed and a statement as to what exactly happened should be released by admin and Army.
— Arjun Sharma (अर्जुन शर्मा) (@arjunsharma_86) December 16, 2022
Former chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, has demanded an impartial investigation into the incident. Regional police have promised a fair probe.
The mainly Muslim Himalayan region of Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and rival Pakistan, although both nuclear-armed neighbours only control parts of the region.
In 2019, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government split Indian-administered Kashmir into two federally administered territories, a widely unpopular decision which has increased violence in the region.