Srinagar: The Indian Army on Friday admitted that its troops killed three young men working as labourers in an apple orchard back in July this year. The three young workers from the frontier district of Rajouri disappeared shortly after arriving in Shopian to make a living.
The Army said an inquiry conducted by it showed that the killings were carried out by its troops during an 'operation'.
It said "disciplinary action" was being initiated under the Army Act against the officers and soldiers involved in the operation.
The inquiry "brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation powers vested under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) 1990 were exceeded and the Do’s and Don’ts of the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) as approved by the Hon’ble Supreme Court have been contravened," the Army said.
It, however, added that the slain men's "involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the J&K police."
According to the families of the three labourers, Muhammad Imtiaz, Abrar Ahmed Khan and Abrar Yusuf were killed by troops in a fake encounter in the Amshipora area on July 18.
The night before, the three men had informed their respective families on the phone that they had reached Shopian where they had been hired by a local fruit grower to work in his apple orchard.
After their killings, the Army had passed them off as "terrorists".
Earlier this month, the families accused the Army and the J&K Police of dilly-dallying on the probes ordered by them separately into the 'disappearance'. In a letter to Lt Governor Manoj Sinha, they sought his intervention into the matter.
They also demanded that an impartial and fair inquiry be held, the DNA reports made public and, if it is established that their kin are the same youth who were killed in the purported July 18 encounter at Amshipora, they be allowed to exhume their bodies so that the victims are given a decent burial by them.
Sinha had while speaking to reporters here on September 14 assured that justice would be done with the families of the slain youth. He had said, “The Army has ordered its own inquiry and the administration is doing its own probe. I want to assure that justice will be done."
Director-general of police Dilbag Singh said on Thursday that the DNA reports in the case would be made public soon.
The DNA samples of the parents and siblings of the missing youth were collected from Rajouri under the aegis of the J&K Police in August and subsequently sent for matching with the trio killed on July 18.
Defence spokesman Col Rajesh Kalia said here on Friday that the inquiry ordered by the Army into Operation Amshipora has been concluded. He said that since the inquiry has brought out certain prima facie evidence indicating that during the operation powers vested under AFSPA 1990 were exceeded and the Do’s and Don’ts of the Army chief, as approved by the Supreme Court, were contravened, the competent disciplinary authority has directed to initiate "disciplinary proceedings under the Army Act against those found prima facie answerable".
He added "The evidence collected by the inquiry has prima-facie indicated that the three unidentified terrorists killed in Operation Amshipora were Muhammad Imtiaz, Abrar Ahmed Khan and Abrar Yusuf, who hailed from Rajouri. Their DNA report is awaited. Their involvement with terrorism or related activities is under investigation by the police."
He further said "Indian Army is committed to ethical conduct of operations. Further updates on the case will be given periodically without affecting due process of the law of the land".
Last month, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for investigation and prosecution into the alleged extrajudicial execution of the three labourers by independent civilian authorities, saying civilian investigations and trials “offer a degree of transparency and independence that is missing from the military justice system”. Various political parties and human rights activists in J&K too demanded an impartial probe into the alleged staged encounter.