Amnesty International urges inquiry into 2,000 bodies in unmarked Kashmiri graves

Kashmir's state assembly members should demand an independent panel to identify the more than 2,000 bullet-riddled bodies, found in unmarked graves, says Amnesty International.

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SRINAGAR // After the recent discovery of unmarked graves containing more than 2,000 bullet-riddled bodies, politicians in the India-controlled portion of Kashmir should demand authorities take steps toward identifying them, an international rights group said.

The graves, both single and mass, in the north of the disputed Himalayan territory contain 2,156 unidentified bodies and 574 known to be those of local residents, according to a report released in August by a state-run commission which reversed India's longtime insistence that the dead were foreign militants killed in Kashmir's two-decade separatist struggle against Indian forces.

Amnesty International said Kashmir's state assembly members should demand that an independent panel be set up to identify the bodies. It said the same recommendation was made last month by the Jammu-Kashmir State Human Rights Commission and had yet to be acted upon.

"The state government must also ensure that all past and current allegations of enforced disappearances are promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigated," the group said, adding that anyone found responsible should be prosecuted.

Omar Abdullah, the top elected official in Indian Kashmir, told state assembly members yesterday that authorities would carry out DNA tests on the bodies buried in unmarked graves in the region.

"The relatives of missing people should come forward to give samples for DNA profiling," Mr Abdullah said.

The DNA tests would take time, he said. "It'll not happen overnight but a beginning can be made. It is not our intention to hide the truth," Mr Abdullah said.

However, opposition People's Democratic Party members walked out of the House after the speaker rejected their request to suspend the day's business to discuss the graves issue.

Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the opposition, said: "It is a matter of shame that this issue has not been discussed in our Parliament but has been debated by the British Parliament."

Meanwhile, the commission has broadened its investigation to look into yet more unmarked graves allegedly containing another 3,844 unidentified bodies in the region's remote southwest, near the heavily militarized line of control dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Local rights groups have long alleged that the graves might contain the bodies of thousands of civilians who vanished and were possibly killed by government forces over suspicions of collaborating with rebels.

Rebel groups began fighting in 1989 against Indian rule, and more than 68,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdowns. The separatists want either independence for Kashmir or a merger with Pakistan.