Hindustan Times (Lucknow)

Army admits J-K boys’ killings a mistake

- Harinder Baweja letters@hindustant­imes.com

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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