Indian army takes action against soldiers over killing of 3 Kashmiris

Updated 19 Sep 2020

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In July, the army said it had killed the three men in an operation against militants in the Shopian district of held Kashmir. ─ AP/File
In July, the army said it had killed the three men in an operation against militants in the Shopian district of held Kashmir. ─ AP/File

SRINAGAR: The Indian army launched disciplinary proceedings against an unspecified number of soldiers following an inquiry into the killing of three suspected militants in held Kashmir, the army said on Friday.

A defence spokesman said evidence showed soldiers had exceeded their powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which grants the army broad authority including shoot-to-kill powers.

In July the army said it had killed the three men in an operation against militants in the Shopian district of held Kashmir.

The families of the slain men said security forces had killed them in cold blood. The army said it was still investigating the dead men’s ties to militant groups.

“The inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation, powers vested under the AFSPA 1990 were exceeded,” Rajesh Kalia, a Srinagar-based defence spokesman, said.

“Consequently, the competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima-facie answer­able.”Soldiers deployed by New Delhi have long been accused of abusing their emergency powers in held Kashmir, a territory India and Pakistan claim in full.

The three men — cousins whom the army claimed were suspected “Pakistani terrorists” — were killed on a counterinsurgency operation on July 18 in the southern Kashmir valley, and buried in remote border area.

But their families, who identified their bodies from pictures on social media, said they were local labourers.

The incident generated outrage in held Kashmir, with political groups, rights activists and many residents demanding an independent probe into the deaths.

On Friday, army spokesman Rajesh Kalia said the soldiers on the operation had “exceeded” their powers and “contravened” the guidelines governing military conduct in held Kashmir.

“Disciplinary proceedings” would be taken against those responsible, Kalia added.

A concurrent police investigation into the killing had yet to establish the involvement of the three men “with terrorism or related activities,” the army statement added.

Police normally accompany soldiers on such operations, although officials said this had not happened on the July operation.

The men’s families said the awaited results of a DNA test ordered as part of the investigation will prove they were local men.

The “fake encounter” in July revived memories of similar incidents across the restive territory where a three-decade-old separatist insurgency has left tens of thousands of dead, mainly civilians.

In 2010, three Indian army officers were found guilty of killing three labourers who had been branded as Pakistani infiltrators near the disputed border know as the Line of Control.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2020