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India admits killing wrong men for massacre

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Five men killed by Indian forces for the massacre of more than 30 Sikhs had been proved innocent, India has said.

"The deceased were not foreign terrorists as claimed by the forces who led the operation, but innocent civilians," chief minister of Indian Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, told the state assembly.

He said he had called for a federal investigation into the incident which caused an uproar in Kashmir "in view of the gravity of the offence".

Thirty-six Sikhs were killed in March 2000 in remote Chitisinghpora village in the disputed Himalayan region, hours before a visit to India by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. Clinton strongly condemned the killings.

Four days later, security forces said they had killed five militants who they said carried out the massacre. The forces identified them as "foreign terrorists" from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen groups.

Both organisations denied involvement and blamed India for the massacre which they said was aimed at discrediting the Kashmiri independence cause during Clinton`s visit.

Local people staged massive street protests, saying security forces had picked up five innocent youths, shot them and burnt their bodies beyond recognition.

The protests prompted authorities to exhume the bodies and carry out forensic tests. The procedure was repeated this year after two forensic laboratories found evidence of tampering and the state government admitted officials had faked the samples.

Human rights groups have accused security forces in the past of widespread abuses. The Indian government says it investigates all allegations and punishes wrongdoers.

Scenic Kashmir, at the centre of a seven-month military stand-off between India and Pakistan, has witnessed a series of massacres since a bloody separatist revolt erupted in 1989.

Source: Reuters

Kashmir killings

When President Clinton arrived in Delhi after a lightning
visit to Bangladesh, he learnt that 36 unarmed Sikhs had been
massacred in the village of Chittisinghpora in Kashmir. It was the
worst such killing in Kashmir's 10-year insurgency.

The timing of the incident and the targeting of Sikhs, a community
previously untouched by Kashmir's long unrest, led some commentators
to suspect that it was the work of Indian intelligence. But within
hours India's national security adviser, Brajesh Mishra, was claiming
unequivocally that the massacre was a clear case of "cross-border
terrorism". He went so far as to name the organisations believed
responsible, two Pakistan-based militias, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Hizbul
Mujahideen. Later the central government ruled out holding an inquiry
into the atrocity, saying there was no doubt about the identity of
the culprits.

But in an important reversal, the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir
state, Dr Farooq Abdullah, has announced that he is launching a
judicial inquiry into the massacre, more than seven months after the
event. The inquiry will also investigate the killing of five alleged
militants a few days after the massacre. At the time the central
government claimed that the five killed were militants responsible
for the massacre of Sikhs but local people insisted they were
innocent civilians who had been picked up from the streets and killed
in cold blood as scapegoats.

"We have decided to initiate a probe into both these incidents," Dr
Abdullah told a press conference in Srinagar. "There is an immediate
need to wash off the doubts from [the people's] hearts and assuage
their hurt feelings." Both incidents would be investigated, he added,
because they were connected. When asked whether the central
government was aware of his decision, Dr Abdullah retorted
angrily: "Why should the centre know about our inquiry...? It is my
state."

The announcement was the latest of several gusts of fresh air to blow
through Kashmir's cobwebs of suspicion and paranoia this week. Two
inquiries organised by Dr Abdullah reached damning conclusions about
the behaviour of security forces in two other incidents, one of which
will result in seven paramilitaries and police officers facing murder
charges.

Kashmir's second massacre of this year occurred on 1 August, when 32
people, most of them Hindu pilgrims, were cut down by gunfire at
Pahalgam, a famous beauty spot in the Kashmir Valley which is the
base camp for a famous annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Amarnath,
high in the Himalayas. Again the Indian authorities blamed Islamic
militants for the massacre but Dr Abdullah's three-man inquiry
concluded most of the deaths were caused by excessive retaliatory
firing by members of the Central Reserve Police Force, a paramilitary
corps.

In a separate inquiry, a former supreme court judge, Justice Pandian,
blamed paramilitaries and police for firing on a protest march on 3
April in the town of Brakpora, where nine people died. He recommended
seven officers involved be put on trial for murder.

In the Kashmir Valley, cynical voices point out that Dr Abdullah, a
seasoned political operator, is mustering his forces for local
elections, and this week's cluster of announcements can only improve
the position of candidates of his party, the Jammu and Kashmir
National Conference. It was also mentioned that the chief minister is
engaged in a trial of nerves with the central government coalition:
his party is the most improbable member of the National Democratic
Alliance coalition headed by Hindu nationalists but has been
increasingly estranged from it since Dr Abdullah's demand for
autonomy for Kashmir was turned down in the summer.

By threatening to embarrass the government with inquiries and murder
trials, Dr Abdullah is seen by some to be putting it under pressure
to adopt a friendlier line and cough up more grant money.

But the mass of people in the valley are quietly grateful this week
that at last some of the most terrible crimes in Kashmir's recent
history will at last be subjected to proper scrutiny.