//Kashmir "staged" killings must be probed – HRW

Kashmir "staged" killings must be probed – HRW

15 Feb 2007 Source: Reuters

NEW DELHI, Feb 15 (Reuters) – The alleged killing of innocent Kashmiris by Indian security forces in staged gunbattles must be independently investigated, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The New York-based group also wants India to establish a "credible and independent" commission to probe the disappearance of thousands of people from the Himalayan region since 1989, the year a separatist Muslim revolt against New Delhi's rule erupted.

"The Indian security forces have 'disappeared' countless people in Jammu and Kashmir since 1989 and staged fake encounter killings while fabricating claims that those killed were militants," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said.

Last month, security forces started investigations into recent incidents in which policemen allegedly murdered five civilians.

Their bodies were then believed to have been passed off as militants shot in self-defence to earn cash rewards and medals.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has ordered a judicial probe into those incidents, which have sparked deep anguish and violent protests across the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley.

But Human Rights Watch has doubts about its credibility.

"We welcome judicial inquiries into encounter killings, but given the government's track record, there is reason to be sceptical," Adams said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch also said it had been told by Indian security officials on condition of anonymity that fake encounter killings in Kashmir are common.

Indian authorities have so far arrested eight policemen, including two senior officers, who are accused of killing the five civilians last year on the outskirts of Indian Kashmir's summer capital of Srinagar.

On Thursday, relatives of people who have disappeared held a protest in Srinagar, shouting "Where are our dear ones?", and holding pictures of the missing persons.

The Kashmir-based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons has also called for a probe into the disappearance of around 10,000 people.

But authorities say the number of missing people is between 1,000 and 3,000, and deny allegations that people disappear from custody.

More than 40,000 people have been killed in a revolt, officials say. Human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000 dead or missing. (Additional reporting by Sheikh Mushtaq in Srinagar)