Communication Breakdown in Sopore, Pattan

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Police questioning ex-militants and stone-pelters

SRINAGAR:  Four attacks in quick succession against telecom employees and those who have rented out space for installation of mobile towers in their fields has led to disruption of communication system in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.

The telecom employees have stopped maintaining the mobile towers and those having franchise of telecom companies have downed their shutters.

The worst affected is Sopore town where all the towers of the private cellular companies have become non-operational.

“The lone BSNL tower located in Model Town Sopore is functional but it is not helping people to get connected with their dear ones as only two percent of the population in the town is availing the services of this state owned company. Sopore has slipped back to the pre-2000 era. People especially traders have been facing tremendous problems but are tight lipped due to fear psychosis,” a shopkeeper Ghulam Muhammad said.

Most of the people from Sopore and its adjacent areas who spoke to this reporter said that recent killings of people associated with telecom business has shocked as well confused them. “We are confused and fail to understand which group is involved in the killings and why they are hell-bent to put people into trouble. The communication breakdown has frustrated people especially the younger ones and traders,” said a group of people.

“We will appreciate the job of police if they will expose the killers and restore the communication system in the town. How long such people can suppress us and make us suffer day in and day out,” said a college going student.

Reports said that at least 35 people have been picked up by police for questioning. Sources said that most of the people who have been called to police station for questioning include the former militants and those youth who have previously been arrested for stone-pelting charges.

Army patrolling parties were seen present around various mobile towers in Sopore town on Thursday. “Army personnel have asked us to inform them immediately if they observe any suspicious movement,” a landlord who has given land to a mobile company for tower purposes said on condition of anonymity.

This reporter talked to various landlords who have rented their land for tower installation. All these people said that they are scared and want round the clock patrolling in the town. “Not a single mobile tower except the BSNL one, which is under the tight vigil of the security forces, is operational in the town. We have already requested the cellular companies to dismantle these towers without any delay,” the landlords said.

Reports said that after the attacks, the employees who were working with private cellular companies have left their jobs and it has victimized scores of families. “I will not let my son to continue his job in the company now. It is better for him to be unemployed than to work at a place where his life is under threat,” said a mother.

Meanwhile, in North Kashmir’s Pattan town, the cellular towers also have gone defunct as a result the town witnesses communication breakdown like in Sopore. Unknown gunmen had struck on Wednesday evening injuring Imtiyaz Ahmed who had provided land to a cellular company to install tower in Armmohalla Pattan. Though, Imtiyaz survived and was discharged from the hospital on Thursday afternoon, the attack created panic among other residents who forced cellular companies to make the towers installed on their land non-operational.

Reports said that except BSNL tower, all other towers of the private cellular companies went out of order in Pattan, resulting the communication breakdown in the town and its adjacent areas.

Threatening posters ‘resurface’ 

SOPORE:  Threatening posters warning telecommunication employees to wind up their business have ‘resurfaced’ in restive Sopore town .

“The attacks started from Sophore town and spread to adjacent areas. We have had three attacks in the last few days and we are looking into them,” IG S J M Gilani said.

Asked about the reason behind such attacks, the IG said, “The militants had installed a communication device atop one of the towers which went missing. So they were looking for it and pressurizing telecom operators and tower owners to give it back.”

Another police official said that only BSNL towers were functioning as they are set up in safe areas. “Power supply to other towers has been snapped by cellular companies and employees are not maintaining them,” he said.

Several residents said they found posters of suspected militant group –Lashkar-e-Islam – pasted in several localities, including Arampora. The posters once again asked people associated with telecommunication companies to wind up their business or “they would be killed”. The warning has also been issued to the people hosting mobile towers and the group has threatened them with death if they don’t stop operations of these towers.

Given the threats and spate of attacks, the private mobile companies have already suspended their operations and on Thursday several other areas were also affected following an attack by motor-cycle borne gunmen yesterday at Pattan in the district.

The people in those areas where the cell phones aren’t working said they are facing extreme difficulties. “The students and businessmen are most hit,” they said.

Despite repeated attempts, no police officer was ready to speak on record. However, a top police officer on the condition of anonymity said that “they will get a breakthrough in couple of days”.

Meanwhile, the police in Handwara area of Kupwara district convened a meeting of landlords who host mobile towers and urged them to immediately report to them in case they get threats, sources said.

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