Army Admits Firing By 'mistake' On Youths

7 November 2014
The Telegraph (Kolkata)

Srinagar: The army today acknowledged that the firing that killed two young Kashmiris in a car on Monday was a 'mistake', making a rare public admission of wrongdoing. Kashmir has been seething since Faisal, 14, and friend Mehraj, 21, were killed and their friends Shaker and Zakir injured in the firing by soldiers at Chhattergam. A fifth occupant of the white Maruti 800 was unhurt. 'I am admitting to you that a mistake has been made,' Lieutenant General D.S. Hooda, General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GoC-in-C), Northern Command, told reporters here. 'Otherwise why should two young boys die and two be in our hospital? We take responsibility. An inquiry will determine the exact circumstances in which the mistake took place.' Right from the day of the shooting, the army had refrained from describing the car's occupants as militants. But it had said that the car had ignored instructions to stop at two checkpoints and then tried to smash through a third. Further, the army had claimed that it had set up the three checkpoints following intelligence inputs about militants travelling in a white Maruti 800. Today, the army announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for each slain youth's family and Rs 5 lakh each for the injured. At the news conference, Lt Gen. Hooda stressed that it was a case of mistaken identity. 'There was some information about a white car with terrorists. Obviously, the identity was mistaken in this case. We take responsibility for the deaths,' he said. The army has initiated action against the erring soldiers by removing the 53 Rashtriya Rifles unit accused of firing at the car and replacing it with a unit from 35 Rashtriya Rifles. Lt Gen. Hooda promised that the inquiry would follow the highest standards of truth and transparency. 'As of now, 15 civilian witnesses have been examined (by the army inquiry). Service witness has also been examined,' he said. 'Hopefully, everything will go well and all witnesses come in and within 10 days or so we will complete our inquiry. We will also cooperate in any other inquiry by the police or the state government.' Lt Gen. Hooda said the focus would be on avoiding repeats. 'We shall be grateful to receive any suggestion or any advice from civil society on how we can improve our procedures,' he said. 'We have specific dos and don'ts for the conduct of operations, which have been spelled out to the troops. If these have been violated, we will deal with it appropriately.' The army has many times in the past been accused of killing innocent civilians in the state but has rarely made a public admission. Still rarer has been the award of exemplary punishment to erring soldiers in military courts. The troops enjoy immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which requires sanction for prosecuting soldiers in criminal courts. Today's army admission came as troops foiled an infiltration attempt in Pallanwala sector, during which one soldier was injured. 'Taking advantage of bad weather, terrorists tried to infiltrate. In the ensuing fire-fight, one jawan was injured but is stable now,' said Lt Col Manish Mehta, defence spokesman at Jammu. 'The area was immediately cordoned off. Combing operations were in progress when the last report came in.'