A senior Hurriyat leader has created a flutter by saying that two separatist leaders and his brother were killed by "our own people" and not security agencies, prompting Jammu and Kashmir government to term it as a "late admission" and a call for a probe to fix responsibility.
"No police was involved (in the killings).... It was our own people who killed them," former Hurriyat Conference Chairman Abdul Gani Bhat said.
He said time had come to speak the truth about the killers of Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone, who were shot dead in 2002, and his own brother Mohammad Sultan Bhat, who was murdered in 1995.
Asked to identify the killers, Bhat said, "What is the need to identify them.... they are already identified."
Farooq, father of the present chairman of moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was shot dead at his residence on May 21, 1990 while Lone, father of Hurriyat executive member Bilal Lone, was gunned down during a commemorative rally for the senior Mirwaiz on the same day in 2002.
The separatist leaders had earlier blamed the security forces for the killings.
Bhat said that his brother Mohammad Sultan Bhat also fell to the bullets of those espousing the separatist cause.
"I had said this then and I am saying it now. There is no ambiguity or confusion in my mind," he said.
Other moderate Hurriyat leaders chose to maintain a studied silence on Bhat's remarks. The state government has held that then Hizbul Mujahideen commander Mohammad Abdullah Bangroo had killed Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq while a commander of Al-Umar Mujahideen had shot dead senior Lone.
Hizbul Mujahideen is considered to be ideologically inclined towards hardline Hurriyat faction leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani while Al Umar is believed to be the militant-wing of Awami Action Committee headed by the Mirwaiz.
Geelani refused to comment on the statements made by the former chairman of the undivided Hurriyat Conference.
"I have nothing to say about their remarks," Geelani told PTI.
Communist Party of India-Marxist state secretary M Y Tarigami said Bhat's statement was "revealing" and the incidents need credible investigation.
"A credible investigation should be carried out so that responsibility for the killings is fixed," Tarigami said. Sajjad Gani Lone, the youngest son of the slain leader, had blamed Geelani for the killing but retracted his statement few years later.
Jammu and Kashmir's Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda said that "the person involved in the killing of Mirwaiz Farooq is also buried in the same 'martyrs' graveyard' where the senior Mirwaiz was laid to rest".
"So this explains a lot. The killer and the killed are both declared as martyrs by them," Khoda said. A senior Hurriyat leader, who did not wish to be named, said there was nothing new in Bhat's remarks.
"Bhat has made the same speech in 'Azad Jammu and Kashmir' (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) assembly five years ago," the leader said.
Bilal Lone and the Mirwaiz chose not to react to the statement. Sources in the Hurriyat said that the leaders of the amalgam will maintain a "meaningful" silence over the remarks.
The moderate faction of the Hurriyat is unhappy with the way Geelani had handled the recent summer unrest in the Valley as many of them questioned the tactics of strikes and stone-pelting during a seminar yesterday.
State Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar described the admission by separatists as a "good development". "It has taken them very long to admit the reality but it is better late than never," Sagar said.
He said the separatist leaders have to be "realistic" if they are serious about resolution of the Kashmir issue and should stop treating the mainstream parties as "untouchables".
"We have to sit together if Kashmir issue has to be resolved permanently. The separatists should support and strengthen the efforts of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in this direction," he said.
In response to a question about unity efforts among the separatists, Bhat said it was "irrelevant" at the moment and that he would take a decision about it in his individual capacity if such a development takes place. "I have never been part of and never will be part of any meaningless exercise. Why are you flogging us with the unity lash," the Hurriyat leader said.
Hurriyat Conference suffered a vertical split in September 2003 after Geelani accused Bhat and other moderate leaders of not running an effective anti-election campaign in 2002 assembly polls when he was in jail.
Geelani also accused People's Conference headed by Bilal and Sajjad Lone of participating in the assembly elections through proxy candidates.