Indian army orders inquiry into alleged civilian deaths in custody

By Fayaz Bukhari

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – The Indian army has launched an investigation into the deaths of three civilians allegedly in military custody in Indian Kashmir, and moved senior officers from the disputed area, a military official said on Monday.

Residents in the area, which is claimed by India and Pakistan, said the civilians had been detained for questioning after militants ambushed Indian army vehicles on Thursday, killing four soldiers.

The inquiry was ordered as a result of the civilians’ deaths, said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The ambush in the woods of Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir was the fifth major attack on Indian troops in recent months in the region, with 24 security force personnel killed.

India and Pakistan each control parts of Muslim-majority Kashmir, where militants have fought Indian security forces since the 1990s.

Indian army chief Manoj Pande visited Poonch on Monday to review the operational preparedness of the troops, said defence spokesperson Suneel Bartwal. “I have no knowledge about the inquiry ordered into deaths of civilians in Poonch,” he said.

Pakistan “strongly condemns” the deaths of the civilians, its foreign ministry said in a statement, calling for the people responsible to be held to account.

Mohammad Sidiq, councillor of Topa Pir village, said nine people, including his 26-year-old shepherd nephew, were picked up by Indian troops on Friday for questioning.

“One of them was let off and eight others were tortured, and three, including my nephew Shoukat Ahmad, were killed,” he said.

A grisly video of men purportedly being tortured by the army has gone viral on social media, causing widespread outrage in the region. Reuters could not independently confirm the authenticity of the video.

Sidiq said the people tortured in the video were the men found dead near the ambush site.

“Where is the law and where is the justice? Is this the reward we get for supporting Indian troops here on the borders? I even get death threats for raising my voice against these three deaths,” Sidiq said.

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar; Writing by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by William Mallard)