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Two army men suspended over Kashmir civilian killings
Sunday, June 06, 2010 05:25:20 PM, IANS
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Srinagar/New Delhi: A day ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Kashmir visit, the Indian Army Sunday suspended two senior officers - a colonel and a major - for their alleged involvement in the killing of three civilians in a staged shootout in April after they were labelled as infiltrators from Pakistan, officials said.
Commanding Officer of 4 Rajput Regiment Colonel D.K. Pathania has been removed from his command and Major Upender, named as the prime suspect in the April 30 shootout case, has also been relieved of active duty pending the inquiry, officials said.
"Colonel (Pathania) has been removed from the command. The second officer (Upender) has been suspended as of now and the inquiry has been ordered," the chief of army's Northern Command Lieutenant General B.S. Jaswal told reporters in Srinagar.
Jaswal assured that the inquiry will be "totally transparent" to seek the truth in the killing of Shahzad Ahmad Khan, Riyaz Ahmad Lone and Mohammed Shafi Lone of Nadihal village in Kupwara district of north Kashmir.
The three were killed in a shootout April 30 and the army claimed they were guerrillas from Pakistan attempting to cross to this side of the Line of Control (LoC) in Machil sector.
The police became suspicious when they saw that all the three were in summer clothes as opposed to warmer clothing needed while crossing the snowbound LoC in extremely cold weather. Police also found bullet wounds in their heads, which they say was unlikely to happen during a gunfight. Their bodies were exhumed last month and their relatives identified them as civilians.
Police have registered murder cases, saying the three were civilians and were killed by army personnel in a staged shootout for cash rewards.
Jaswal said the army's "genuine concern is to be transparent".
"This (suspension of officers) is the first step. And this should be the indicator that subsequently we will be coming out with the truth."
The action against the accused officers comes a day before Manmohan Singh's day-long visit to Kashmir Monday to oversee developmental work.
Army sources in Delhi said the colonel has also been asked not to leave the Kashmir Valley till the probe into the case is completed. Pathania was to join his regiment that has been relocated to Meerut.
Police have arrested three co-conspirators -- Abbas Hussain Shah, Bashir Ahmad Lone and Fayaz Ahmad. The police inquiry relies heavily on the statement of Abbas Hussain Shah, who is a soldier with the 161 Battalion of the Territorial Army.
The army has also ordered its own inquiry that is being headed by an officer of the rank of general officer commanding and is assisted by two other senior officers.
The sources said that the officer heading the inquiry has been ordered to speed up the process and submit a report to the defence ministry for action against the officials if they were found guilty.
This is the second time that a serving army officer has been removed from a command.
Earlier in 2006, Colonel R.S. Guleria of 33 Rashtriya Rifles was removed from his command for the alleged killing of three cricket playing boys in Dudipora-Handwara.
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