Army ad­mits J-K boys’ killings a mis­take

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - FRONT PAGE - Harinder Baweja let­ters@hin­dus­tan­

In an un­usual move, the army ad­mit­ted on Fri­day that the killing of two Kash­miri youths in Budgam on Novem­ber 3 was a mis­take, while HT learnt that sol­diers fired 32 bul­lets, caus­ing the deaths and wound­ing two oth­ers.

The ad­mis­sion came after an ini­tial in­quiry – de­tails of which have been ac­cessed by Hin­dus­tan Times – re­vealed that the army per­son­nel were in vi­o­la­tion of sev­eral stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures (SOPs).

“The Maruti car car­ry­ing five youths was em­bed­ded with 32 bul­lets in­clud­ing 12 in the bod­ies of the dead and the in­jured,” a se­nior army of­fi­cial fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion told HT.

“We take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the death of the two boys in Kashmir. We ad­mit that a mis­take was made,” North­ern Army com­man­der lieu­tenant gen­eral DS Hooda told the me­dia in Srinagar.

While an­nounc­ing a com­pen­sa­tion of ` 10 lakh each for fam­i­lies of the de­ceased, Hooda said, “There was some in­for­ma­tion about a white car with ter­ror­ists. Ob­vi­ously, the iden­tity was mis­taken in this case.”

In a de­par­ture from the past, the North­ern Com­man­der, based out of Ud­ham­pur in the Jammu sub­di­vi­sion, flew to Srinagar to ad­dress the me­dia.

The f am­i­lies of the two de­ceased, how­ever, have re­ject- ed the com­pen­sa­tion. “I will not ac­cept army com­pen­sa­tion against my son’s blood. I of­fer ` 20 lakh per head for those who killed my in­no­cent and un­armed son. Is the army ready to hand them over to me?” said Mo­ham­mad Yousuf Bhat, whose son Faisal was killed in the in­ci­dent. “I will not take a penny from those who killed my son,” he told a news por­tal in Srinagar.

“I will give army what­ever it wants, the earn­ings of my life, all my pos­ses­sions. All I want is that they must de­clare the names along with pic­tures of those in­volved,” said Ghu­lam Mo­ham­mad Dar, fa­ther of Mehraj-ud-din who was also killed in the in­ci­dent.

An army of­fi­cer fa­mil­iar with the in­quiry said the sol­diers be­long­ing to 53 Rashtriya Ri­fles should not have opened fire with au­to­matic ri­fles. As per the SOPs, they are sup­posed to fire only when fired upon or in an am­bush sit­u­a­tion. In this case, there was no threat to them from the five youths trav­el­ling in the Maruti car, he said.

As per pro­ce­dures, the army unit was sup­posed to take a lo­cal po­lice of­fi­cer with it and the in­quiry has found that this, too, was not done.

Hooda, the se­nior most army of­fi­cer in-charge of north In­dia, was prod­ded by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment to go to the “epi­cen­tre” and ad­mit to the mis­take.

Chief min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah who tweeted about the killings “vi­ti­at­ing the elec­tion at­mos­phere” had also taken up the mat­ter with de­fence min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley.

Jait­ley had promised an im­par­tial probe and had tweeted on Novem­ber 3, say­ing, “The Budgam in­ci­dent in the Kashmir Val­ley is highly re­gret­table. A fair en­quiry will be held and ac­tion taken against those found guilty.”

While promis­ing to com­plete the in­quiry within ten days, Hooda said, “We will en­sure such in­ci­dents never hap­pen again.”

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