Civilian Deaths in Custody Fuel Anger and Questions in Kashmir

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By Usa Express Daily


Kashmiris are calling for an investigation into the deaths of three civilians on Friday who were among several people Indian soldiers had detained for questioning in connection with an attack by separatist militants in the restive region.

The ambush, on Thursday, of two army vehicles, which left four soldiers dead and three others injured, was the latest in a campaign of violence that militants resisting Indian rule have carried out in remote villages in the Himalayan mountains in Kashmir, an area at the heart of a bitter and longstanding dispute between India and Pakistan.

Mohammad Iqbal, a local businessman and an uncle of one of the victims, said that soldiers arrived on Friday morning in the village of Topa Peer in the Poonch District, not far from where the attack occurred, and detained at least eight people, he said. His nephew and two others were found dead on a roadside that evening. Their bodies showed signs of torture, he said.

“They were innocent civilians,” Mr. Iqbal said. “This is a grave injustice.”

The local police took custody of the bodies and contacted the families. Several other people detained on Friday were released and have been hospitalized, according to local officials. A video that purported to show the torture of the detained civilians spread online, fueling widespread anger.

To prevent protest in the districts of Poonch and Rajouri, where the ambush took place, the authorities shut down internet service in the area and deployed more forces on roads leading to villages.

No one has been charged in connection with the attack on the military vehicle, which Indian news media reported a little-known militant group had claimed responsibility for. The army said in a statement that its search operation was continuing.

Poonch, in a southern district of Kashmir, is near the heavily militarized Line of Control between India and Pakistan. Although the residents of Kashmir Valley have long accused Indian forces of disappearances and extrajudicial killings, relatively remote areas like Rajouri and Poonch had historically been spared the worst of such misdeeds.

But in recent years, after India stripped Kashmir of its semiautonomous status, these areas have become the scene of deadly attacks against Indian troops by Muslim militants seeking to unite Kashmir, either as part of Pakistan or as an independent country. At least three dozen soldiers have been killed in such attacks, which have in turn prompted harsh crackdowns.

Human rights groups have long accused government forces of getting away with their actions because of laws granting them broad impunity.

Mehbooba Mufti, the region’s former top elected official, said innocent people had become collateral damage to maintain the facade of normalcy imposed by the Indian government in Kashmir, which is now under the direct control of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

That regional government said it was investigating the deaths and announced compassionate government jobs for relatives of the victims.

Farooq Abdullah, another former high-ranking Kashmiri elected official, called such compensation inadequate.

“This a serious human rights violation, and there should be an impartial investigation,” he said. “How would we win hearts of people if killings like these continue?”





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