Anger in Kashmir after Indian soldiers cleared over killings

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Kashmiri rebels and rights groups on Friday denounced a military court verdict that exonerated five Indian army officers involved in the killing of five civilians 14 years ago.

“It is a living example of lawlessness and state terrorism, a slap in the face of the Kashmiri people whose lives have no value for the Indian army,” Hurriyet leader Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement.

The five local civilians were killed in Pathribal village days after the massacre of 35 Sikhs in a remote village of Chattisinghpora in May 2000.

The army claimed the victims were “foreign militants”, accusing them of being responsible for the massacre.

But a subsequent probe by India’s top investigating agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation, described the killings as “cold blooded murder”, paving the way for a trial in a military court held behind closed doors.

The five were however cleared on Thursday as “the evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused persons”, according to an army statement.

In its verdict, the tribunal did not dispute the CBI’s findings that the victims were civilians but it added that they were killed during an operation “based on specific intelligence”.

Scores of activists from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front staged a protest in the state’s main city Srinagar on Friday to denounce the verdict, chanting slogans such as “Punish the Murderers!”

The London-based rights watchdog Amnesty International said the verdict was an example of the culture of “impunity” in Kashmir, a picturesque Himalayan region, divided between India and Pakistan and claimed by both.