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If security forces murdered Panchal Than boys, who killed the 36 Sikhs?

APHC blames "government forces," but a clear answer would come from an enquiry Farooq has promised 

The state government has confirmed in the assembly that five people killed in March 2000 in the Panchal Than village of Islamabad district were innocent civilians. Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in a statement on July 16 identified the victims as Jumma Khan son of Faqir Khan of Brari Angan; Jumma Khan son of Sher Ali of Brari Angan; Zahoor Ahmad Dalal son of Abdul Ghaffar Dalal of Moominabad; Mohammad Yusuf Malik son of Abdul Kabeer of Hallan Kapran; and Bashir Ahmad Bhat son of Abdul Aziz of Hassan, Kapran.

The chief minister told the house that all the five were civilians and not "foreign militants" as claimed by the security forces. Though the state government had already initiated an inquiry into the case of tampering with the DNA samples of Pathribal victims, this time it went one step ahead announcing CBI inquiry into the changing of samples. The CM told the house, which had met for the last session of its current tenure, "In view of the gravity of the offence made out as well as the attempt made by certain officials to destroy the evidence and to ensure fair investigation, I have recommended that the investigation of the case be taken by the Central Bureau of Investigation, which will be requested to expedite the investigation to bring the accused to the trail court". 

» Both Chhattisinghpura and Panchal Than killings were unrelated to terrorist violence, and allegedly the handiwork of security forces
» CBI may not have the powers to investigate army's excesses
» Government officials suspended for tampering with the DNA samples were reinstated
» APHC feels vindicated on Chhattisinghpura being unrelated to terrorist violence and "the handiwork of government forces"

However, the important point, which is presently discussed here is how army’s role in the disputed operation would be ascertained, as the CBI enjoys no jurisdiction over defence forces. It is feared that the blame may be passed on to the local police, which assisted the army in the fake encounter. The exposure has put a question mark on the conduct of security operations in Kashmir. Allegations of fake encounters have been made with unfailing regularity over the last 12 years. The state government's claims of a thorough probe into the murders have however begun to sound hollow as there are reports that the officials suspended for tampering with the DNA samples of the victims have been reinstated even before a CBI enquiry could be ordered.

The state government had early this year confirmed that the DNA samples of Panchal Than victims were fudged. That cast a shadow of doubt over all the inquiries and investigations announced by the government of Jammu and Kashmir in various incidents of killings by security forces. The revelations about the DNA samples having been changed came days after the report of the one-man commission set up to probe the Higam killings in Baramulla was tabled in the state assembly. 

The commission headed by Justice (retd) OP Sharma justified firing on civilian processionists by army saying that troops had no option but to open fire at the mob, which had blocked the Srinagar-Baramulla highway. The government has announced formation of yet another one-man commission to probe the circumstances under which the DNA samples of Panchal Than victims were changed. A retired judge of Jammu and Kashmir high court, Justice Ghulam Ahmad Kochay, has been chosen to probe the matter. 

Justice Kochay has been asked to identify people responsible for fudging the samples and submit his report within two months. The chief minister Dr. Farooq Abdullah had to tender an apology in the state assembly over the issue. Since 2000 government agencies had been claiming that the five murdered Kashmiris were foreign militants who had massacred 36 Sikhs in Chhattisinghpura. The Sikhs were killed during President Bill Clinton's India visit. 

Government held separatist militants responsible for the anti-Sikh carnage. Only a few days later, the five Muslim civilians were killed by security forces. The security forces had also released "names" of the five, prefixing the word "Abu" with almost all of them. Foreign militants active in Kashmir often have nome de guerr that begin with "Abu". The population of Pathri Bal village came on the streets against the killings as four out of five victims were from that village. Police opened fire on the peaceful procession at Brakpora, killing several innocent persons and injuring many others. This brought the firing on peaceful processionists to the notice of government and rights groups. 

It also focused attention on the basic issue of murder of the five civilians in the fake encounter. The state government announced an inquiry into both the incidents. The inquiry revealed that the five "foreign mercenaries" were innocent civilians who were killed in a fake encounter. Their bodies were burnt to destroy evidence. In order to reveal more facts, the state government also decided to have DNA tests. Samples of dead bodies and blood samples of relatives of victims were taken in March 2000 and sent to two forensic laboratories in Kolkata and Hyderabad. The samples were later found to have been tampered with by some of the government officials who wanted to shield the guilty. 

The revelations available with regard to the killing of the five civilians have also brought the Chhattisinghpura killings to the forefront. The state government has in principle agreed to have a separate probe into the killing of the 36 Sikhs. The state government had requested Justice (retd.) Pandianan to have another inquiry into the anti-Sikh carnage. However, Justice Padianan was not available for the probe as he was going abroad when the state government requested him to undertake the Chhattisinghpura inquiry. The chief minister however agreed that Chhattisinghpura killings should also be probed. 

All Party-Hurriyat Conference (APHC). It said that apprehensions expressed by the conference had come true.

The APHC had demanded a high-level probe into the killing of Sikhs alleging "government hand" in the elimination of the innocent people. The latest findings and announcement by the state government to get a CBI probe, is likely to add to the APHCs e credibility. Such small gains are very important for APHC in view of forthcoming assembly elections.

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