- The Washington Times - Friday, August 2, 2002

ANANTNAG, India Indian army troops hunting for terrorists involved in an attack in Kashmir killed and buried innocent civilians, and when protests by villagers forced exhumation of their bodies, they fudged DNA tests to try to prove that the remains were those of Pakistani militants, government reports have revealed.

Human rights groups frequently have reported abuses by the Indian army in the territory claimed by both India and Pakistan, but the incident is one of a few cases of excesses conceded by government officials.

On March 20, 2000, when President Clinton was visiting India, 35 Sikhs were killed in Chattisinghpura village in Kashmir by suspected Islamic militants disguised in army uniforms. India blamed Pakistan-based terrorists for the attack.

Four days later, 17 Muslim residents from three neighboring villages went missing. Simultaneously, reports emerged that five Pakistani terrorists involved in the attack had been killed in an "encounter."

Juma Khan, a 45-year-old resident of Brari Angan village, was picked up at night by soldiers without any explanation. The local police said they had no knowledge of the arrest.

"I did not know where else to go then. I thought they would not harm him because he was a family man and was not involved in anything," Mr. Khan's wife, Roshan Jan, said recently.

Two days after Mr. Khan was picked up, an army statement said five "foreign militants" from Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen holed up in a house in neighboring Panchalthan village were shot dead by army sharpshooters during a "ferocious encounter."

Bodies of those killed were buried quickly by the army without autopsies. From clothing and personal items recovered around the burial sites, villagers ascertained that the five were from among the missing villagers.

As public protests grew, the state government ordered, two weeks after the men had been buried, that the bodies be exhumed.

Although the bodies were charred, the army fatigues in which they had been clothed were mysteriously intact. Most bodies had torture marks on them. One body was headless.

State Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah ordered DNA testing to ascertain their identities. But that plan came under a cloud when two forensic laboratories said the DNA samples of the dead men's relatives had been tampered with.

"In one case, blood samples were said to belong to the mother and daughter of one victim. But not only were the samples male in origin, but both belonged to the same man," a senior scientist of Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Calcutta said this week.

An investigation by the Times of India newspaper revealed that in three cases the samples of women relatives were found to have been collected from men. Samples of another woman relative contained DNA of two individuals.

The government suspended the doctors who had collected the samples, and a new team, headed by a senior police officer, collected blood samples in April this year.

On July 16, Mr. Abdullah announced the DNA test results to the state legislative assembly in Srinagar, saying the report established that the dead men were "not foreign terrorists, as contended by the forces, but innocent civilians."

He said the federal Central Bureau of Investigation would probe the DNA tests, the guilty would be punished, and relatives of the victims would be compensated.

But Mr. Khan's wife said nothing could compensate for the loss of her husband.

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