Indian troops kill 3 in Kashmir; families deny militant ties

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Indian army soldiers walk near the site of a gun battle on the outskirts of Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. A gun battle between rebels and government forces overnight killed three rebels on the outskirts of Srinagar on Wednesday, officials said. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

SRINAGAR – Police in Indian-controlled Kashmir said Wednesday that government forces killed three suspected militants in a gunfight in the disputed region’s main city, but families of the slain men alleged they were killed in a staged gunbattle.

The families contested that the three were anti-India militants, saying they were “innocent." The killings come days after police in the Himalayan region charged an Indian army officer and two others with killing three laborers in a faked gunfight in July.

Kashmir is split between India and Pakistan and both claim the mountain region in its entirety, fighting two wars over it.

In the latest violence, police said in a statement that three militants were killed in an overnight operation in the outskirts of Srinagar. Their families protested in front of police headquarters in the city and identified the slain as Aijaz Maqbool, Athar Mushtaq and Zubair Ahmed, all from southern Kashmir's Pulwama and Shopian districts.

Police said they are investigating and that government forces recovered a rifle and two pistols. Police also said the three killed “were not mentioned in our list of terrorists, yet two of them are hardcore associates of terrorists.”

The deaths come months after a rare admission of wrongdoing by the Indian military, which said its soldiers in Kashmir exceeded their legal powers in the killings of three local men it had described as Pakistani terrorists in July.

Police said Sunday that an Indian army officer and two civilian “army sources” killed three laborers "after stripping them of their identities and tagging them as hardcore terrorists.” The officer has been charged with murder, conspiracy and other offenses, according to police documents filed in a local court.

Rebels have been fighting Indian control since 1989. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of sponsoring Kashmiri militants, a charge Pakistan denies. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces.

Kashmiri civilians and activists for years have accused Indian troops of abusing their powers and repeatedly targeting civilians.

India has rejected every request since 1990 to prosecute Indian soldiers in civilian courts in Kashmir over allegations of abuses, including murder and rape, according to official documents.