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Rights group asks India to probe Kashmir graves

Associated Press - August 23, 2011

Aijaz Hussain, Srinagar, India An international human rights group is urging India to allow an impartial investigation of hundreds of unmarked graves in Indian-administered Kashmir after a government report confirmed they contain more than 2,000 bullet-riddled bodies, including hundreds of local residents.

Amnesty International said the investigation of graves in three regions also needs to be widened to all of the Indian-controlled portion of the disputed Himalayan territory.

"All unmarked grave sites must be secured and investigations carried out by impartial forensic experts," the London-based group said in a statement late Monday.

The Jammu-Kashmir State Human Rights Commission said in a recent report that 2,156 unidentified bodies were found in graves in three northern mountainous regions, while 574 other bodies in the graves were identified as local residents.

The commission's report is the first official acknowledgment that civilians killed in the two-decade conflict may have been buried in unmarked graves, but stops short of confirming that suspicion, long held by local residents and rights groups.

Previously, officials insisted that all the bodies were of outside militant fighters.

The top elected official in Indian-held Kashmir has proposed a truth and reconciliation commission be set up to probe all killings since Kashmiri militants launched an armed campaign against Indian rule and New Delhi responded with a military crackdown in 1989.

"The commission should be assigned the task to probe all the killings in the state. Whether the killings were carried out by militants or security forces, it needs to be probed," Omar Abdullah said.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir and most people want independence or merger with neighboring Pakistan.

India and Pakistan have fought two wars since 1947 for control of the territory, which is divided between them. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebel fighters, but Pakistan says it only offers moral and diplomatic support for their cause.

More than 68,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict. Rights groups say some 8,000 people have disappeared, and accuse government forces of staging gunbattles to cover up killings. The groups also say suspected rebels have been arrested and never heard from again.

The state government has countered that most of the missing are probably Kashmiri youths who crossed into Pakistan for weapons training.

In 2008, a rights group reported unmarked graves in 55 villages across the northern regions of Baramulla, Bandipore and Handwara, after which researchers and other groups reported finding thousands of single and mass graves without markers.

Indian officials set up the commission to investigate and also began a separate police probe, the findings of which have yet to be released.

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