//14 Indian soldiers suspended over Kashmir killing

14 Indian soldiers suspended over Kashmir killing

SRINAGAR, India — Fourteen Indian border guards were suspended Saturday for suspected involvement in the shooting death of a teenager in the troubled Indian-ruled portion of Kashmir, an official said. The killing, the second death of a Kashmiri youth in a week, triggered massive anti-India street protests in the region, and prompted the federal government to order a probe.

Residents alleged that the Feb. 5 shooting of 17-year-old Zahid Farooq was ordered by a senior officer of the Border Security Force, R.K. Birdi, who was suspended from duty along with 13 soldiers pending an inquiry, a BSF officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.On Wednesday, police arrested Lakhvinder Kumar, another border guard, after an initial BSF probe suggested he had fired at the teenager.

New York-based Human Rights Watch on Thursday hailed Kumar’s arrest and said it could be an important step in curtailing abuses by government forces.

“It is extremely rare for the security forces in Kashmir to turn over one of their own to the civilian justice system,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, a senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Now they should go a step further to see if senior officers were also responsible.”

However, the victim’s father, Farooq Ahmed, said the soldier’s arrest was aimed at shielding a senior officer and demanded an identification parade of all BSF soldiers present at the time of the shooting.

Kashmir, which is predominantly Muslim, is divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both. Anti-India sentiment runs deep in the Himalayan region, where rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989.

More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

Zahid Farooq’s death followed that of Wamiq Farooq, 14, who died after being struck in the head by a police tear gas shell on Jan. 31. Scores of protesters and troops were injured during days of unrest sparked by the killings, and 80 demonstrators were arrested.

Indian forces are often accused of using excessive force to quell protests in Kashmir.