Saturday, March 21, 2009

Killings embarrassed government

Says Guilty Would Be Punished, Army To Be Made ‘Invisible’


Srinagar, Mar 20: The chief minister, Omar Abdullah, today acknowledged that the government was put to an embarrassment by the recent killings of civilians by troops and said that steps would be taken after the parliamentary elections to strengthen Jammu and Kashmir Police and make the army ‘invisible’ in the state.
 “Our government that took oath on January 5, had promised the people zero tolerance to human rights violations. But the recent incidents have embarrassed the government as these had belied our promise that such incidents won’t take place,” Omar said while addressing a press conference here this evening. 
 However, he said the government didn’t indulge in sloganeering when two persons were killed in Bomai. Instead, it was quick to order a magisterial probe. “The government ordered magisterial probe, police registered an FIR and the army ordered Court of Inquiry,” he said, adding that in a short period of time the probe was completed.
 Omar said the army had accepted the “lapses in command, judgment and misuse of service weapons that led to murder in Bomai.” 
 Asked about the army claims of cross firing, he said, “When they say it was a murder it means there was no cross firing.” He said the army had agreed to club the government’s inquiry report with the findings of its Court of Inquiry.
 He said the Court of Inquiry in Bomai incident had indicted three soldiers, including a JCO, and in Pakherpora incident, where CRPF shot dead a carpenter, 4 paramilitary personnel had been suspended. 
 “Justice shouldn’t be only done but it should be seen to be done. Human rights violations would not be accepted and severe action would be taken against armed forces personnel involved in the killings,” Omar promised.
 Dispelling the impression that his government was in confrontation with the army, Omar said in the entire course of action after the Bomai incident there was full coordination between the army and the civil administration. However, he said, in both Bomai and Khaigam incidents, the army and the paramilitary forces didn’t follow the Standard Operational Procedure and this led to the murders.
 The chief minister said he had talked to the GOC 15 corps about relocation of Bomai camp as demanded by the people. He said the camp would be located after government would find alternate site within six or seven days. 
 Usually, he said, the army and paramilitary forces followed the SOP and rules. “But, some elements perceive themselves above the law and violate the SOP,” he said. The chief minister, however, insisted that army was not interested in covering up incidents of human rights violation. 
 “The human rights violations undermine the image of army and it is not interested in covering up the incidents like Bomai,” he said. He said they ordered the Court of Inquiry and within days came up with the report.
 Omar said after the parliament elections the government would continue “the process to minimize the close contact of the armed forces with people.” He said the army would be shifted from hospitals, agriculture lands, schools and other public places. 
 His government, Omar said, didn’t politicize the incidents but straightaway ordered time-bound probes and fixed the responsibility to discourage their recurrence. “There were no photo-ops to distribute cheques among the next-of-kin of the victims but time-bound, transparent probes,” Omar said.
 About the revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that gives sweeping powers to the armed forces, Omar, in an apparent reference to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, said out of power some people had woken up to the demand of its revocation. He said in contrast to them he has sought its revocation on the floor of Assembly. He favoured the withdrawal of AFSPA, saying the situation was returning to normal. He said there was a window of opportunity that was opening up for the state after the parliament elections. He hoped that the Act would be revoked in NC-Congress coalition government.


Killing for sport
Khaigam (Pakharpora), Mar 19: Despair and gloom is writ large on the faces of every single individual in this sleepy hamlet near the famous resort of Yusmarg as hundreds of people from adjoining villages headed to join the funeral procession of Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Malik (37), killed by paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force personnel on Wednesday evening. 
Crying bitterly, Shahnawaz, the 12-year old son of slain Malik, who is in his 6th grade, asks everyone around to “bring back his Papa” knowing little that he had departed for a place wherefrom nobody has ever returned. “I was sitting with my grandfather when the CRPF troopers came and enquired about guests. They closed the door on us and asked us to flee. We went to our aunt’s house. Later, we learnt our father had been martyred,” said Shahnawaz, adding he did not want anything except the return of his father.

Going by the sequence of events, there was no compelling reason for the troopers to go for the kill. It seems to be a murder for sport.
Malik has never been a militant in his life. In fact, this village has not contributed a single person toward militancy, or witnessed a gunfight, real or staged, in the past two decades. A carpenter by profession, the deceased had tremendous responsibilities on his shoulders. He was the only breadwinner of his family comprising his pregnant wife, four children, ailing 70-year old mother, and deaf 78-year old father. 
The carpenter was giving finishing touches to a single story house he had been constructing for the past three years, while living on the largesse of a neighbor who had given him a house to live in, and in which he was brutally shot dead. He was not caught up in a gunfight--real or staged--between the troopers and militants that he could be labeled as collateral damage. Police records have nothing against him. There is nothing that could remotely establish a connection between his murder and the incursion of the CRPF troopers into his house on Wednesday evening.

The village chowkidar, Nazir Ahmad Magray son of Muhammad Abdullah, witnessed it all. He says:
“A group of CRPF men came to my house and ordered me to accompany them for a search operation. Before going for search, one of them told me how many Akbars live in this village. I said three. But they didn’t ask me about their specific details. Instead, they led me straight to the house of Ghulam Mohiuddin. There I found several troopers had already cordoned off the house. 
“A Kashmiri speaking trooper called by his colleagues as Pandit went with me inside and they asked Mohiuddin’s father, ‘Was there any guest in the house?’. He told them there wasn’t any. Then they searched the rooms. The ground floor is used for rearing cows. In the second story, we found Mohiuddin’s mother resting in one of rooms, and his son and father in the other. 
“Then the Kashmiri speaking trooper and his partner went to the space under roof where the family stores fodder and grains. But from the landing itself they shot a volley of fire toward the right side of the Kanee (the crawl space below the roof) where Ghulam Mohiuddin was shuffling grass bundles.
“I rushed down, taken by the fear that since I saw everything they would kill me now. So I went into a room and sat with Mohiuddin’s father but not for long as I was very restless. I came out of the house and went to a CRPF hawildar. I asked him did you kill a militant there? Was he a militant you fired at? He said ‘gapla hogaya (it was a blunder), there were no militants there.’ Just then I received a call from my wife. She had heard gunshots and my family was feeling worried. That is when I noticed the time. It was 7.22 PM.”
Asked if there was cross-fire in the house as claimed by the CRPF spokesman, Nazir said, “It is a big lie. Would he have fired with grass? The only fire I heard was theirs.” Nazir said he returned to the house with Mohiuddin’s cousin he met in the village. “When we came back we found the troopers were leaving from the spot like thieves. We took a gas lamp and went straight to the roof space. We found Ghulam Mohiuddin’s body among bundles of grass. His chest was riddled with bullets,” Nazir said.

The area of the crawl space doesn’t exceed more than 150 sq feet. It is packed with bundles of paddy and corn straw, the fodder for cattle. Three big wooden boxes filled with rice occupy the rest of the space. Ghulam Mohiuddin had gone there to fetch the fodder for the cattle. His body was found in the right corner of the space. 
This morning, police recovered a live bullet of INSAS rifle (used by Indian armed forces) and several cartridges near the spot where he fell to the bullets of the troopers, suggesting he had been shot from very close range. 
The landing, from which the troopers fired, according to eyewitness Nazir, is nearly two and half metres away from the spot. 
Police marked with chalk the portion of a wooden pole pockmarked with bullets. Mohiuddin had fallen close to this pole. Concentration of bullet marks on a nine inch space of the pole indicates the troopers fired toward him, the policemen said. Police also found bullet marks on the wooden planks, all on the right corner of the space. They didn’t find a single bullet mark in any other direction. 
Policemen who were collecting forensic evidence said that killing was targeted, as they didn’t find a stray bullet mark on the tin roof or the planks in any other direction except the right corner where Malik was picking up the bundle. Cross fire, they said, is random, not directed like this case. Besides, the troopers had fired at least 19 bullets into his chest, an unlikely case in cross fire, the policemen said.
The villagers said that while fleeing from the house the troopers fired some shots toward the house to make it look like cross fire.

Asked if the CRPF troopers violated the Standard Operational Procedure that makes it mandatory for the armed forces to inform the local police prior to a counter-militancy operation, and also take police along during such operations, the deputy inspector general of police, Rajesh Kumar, told Greater Kashmir, “They didn’t inform police prior to the incident. Yes, they have violated the SOP again.” 
After the killing of two civilians in Bomai, Sopur, last month the chief minister, Omar Abdullah, had asked the armed forces to follow the SOP, but army violated it in Bomai murdering two civilians, the CRPF violated it in Khaigam, murdering the carpenter Ghulam Mohiuddin.
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