Conflicts & War

Indian leader seeks withdrawal of army powers after civilian killings

New Delhi, Dec 6 (EFE).- The government of a restive northeast Indian state Monday sought the revocation of a controversial law that gives sweeping powers to security personnel for counter-insurgency operations, a day after soldiers allegedly killed 14 civilians in and after a botched anti-terror operation.

The Indian government expressed regrets over the killing of civilians in Nagaland amid noisy protests in parliament.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, the top elected official of the state, said the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives the army shoot-to-kill powers to fight militants, was “draconian” in nature and “should be removed.”

“This (the law) has blackened the image of our country,” Rio said.

The law in force in several northeastern states and Indian Kashmir gives the army legal immunity from using the force and allows it to arrest suspects without warrants.

Human rights groups accuse the Indian Army of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions under the controversial law.

The renewed call for the abrogation of the law came after 14 civilians were killed on Saturday afternoon in Nagaland, where Rio heads the state government.

Indian Army soldiers opened fire and killed eight villagers, apparently suspecting them to be militants, during an ambush for insurgents near Oting village in Mon district of the volatile northeastern state.

The killings sparked angry street protests.

Security forces then allegedly opened fire in “self defense” to resist the violent mob, some of whom torched three army vehicles.

Six protesters were killed and six injured in the firing by the security forces on Sunday.

A soldier also died, taking the death toll to 15.

“I have spoken with Union Home Minister (Amit Shah). He is taking the issue very seriously and we have given financial assistance to the affected families,” Rio said.

Shah spoke over the incident in parliament, acknowledging that the situation in Nagaland was “tense but under control.”

He said the statement government had formed a special investigation team to complete the probe within a month.

A New Delhi-based independent think tank, the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), Monday called for immediate arrest of the accused army personnel.

“The accused ought to be handed over to the police for the offense of murder. Otherwise, mere statements of anguish or formation of special investigation team or court of inquiry are simply not adequate to assuage the outrage against the massacre,” RRAG director Suhas Chakma said.

“The central forces operate under the command of the local police under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and they are deployed to aid the civil administration.”

Chakma dismissed the official version that soldiers mistook the civilians as militants traveling in a pick-up truck.

“Insurgents traveling in a pick-up truck is unheard of and it is nothing but plain massacre of the civilians.”

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