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Jammu, Apr 8 (UNI) With the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) Divisional Commander Ghulam Hussain Wani Ghulam Hussian wani today, Kither-- a remote village of Doda district-- which used to be a hub of ''militants'', has become a militancy free zone, defence sources said here.

''After twenty years of militancy, the area near Bhalessa in Bhaderwah town, once a militants' hub, including foreigner mercenaries, has been sanitised by the joint efforts of police and the army under operation 'Snow Leopard,'' Defence Spokesman Lt Col S D Goswami told UNI.

On February 28, the troops of 26 Rashtriya Rifles in collaboration with Thathri, Gandoh, Kishtwar and Doda police besides the local villagers, launched operation 'Snow Leopard' despite heavy snow fall in this remote area of Doda district, which resulted in mounting the pressure on the operating militants.

''With the elimination of HM Divisional Commander Ghulam Hussain Wani, alias Shamim Thool, Kither, a training ground for militants, has been rescued from the grip of ''militancy'', Lt Col Goswami said, adding earlier four militants of foreign outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) were killed and four representing HM surrendered before the security forces.

Kither, situated at a height of 2300 metres above sea level accomodating 120 houses and a population of 2000 people, was under direct influence of militancy since 90's.

''In 1990, when the militancy was at its peak, the militant organisations namely Al-Jehad, HM, Harkat-Ul-Ansar and later LeT, selected this hill as their base camp for training new recruits and to carry out operations in Jammu region,'' the sources said.

However, in 2001, troops of 26 RR launched Operation Hill Down to flush militants out of the area in which 11 army personnel lost their lives but the operation failed.

From 2002 to 2007, the army once again actively engaged in washing out the militants but the operation again remained unsuccessful, the spokesman added.

During this period when the militancy was at its peak, 14 civilians, including nine of a family, were killed. Around ten, forcible marriages were also reported while the locals were used as porters to carry the essential commodities of the militants.

''Anybody seen talking to the security forces, would either be killed or lose his family,'' a local villager Shamas Gujjar, who lost three members of his family, told UNI.

''The operation would not have been possible without the cooperation of the local villagers, who always helped the police and the army by giving first hand information about the presence of militants and their activities,'' Lt Col Goswami added.

The villagers have also demanded weapons and other facilities to face the challenges in the area as they are ready to counter terrorism along with the security forces, the villgers said.

UNI XC/VBH SB RK1738

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