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Fake-killing probe panel miffs groups

- Plea for hearings in Imphal

Imphal, Feb. 21: Civil society groups in Manipur are “disappointed” by the initial proceedings of the Supreme Court-constituted inquiry commission, which is probing six cases of alleged fake encounter killings in Manipur.

The apex court, acting on two petitions filed by Human Rights Alert, Manipur, and Extra-Judicial Execution Victim Families’ Association, had set up the commission on January 4 to probe the first six of more than 1,500 cases listed in the petitions.

The panel comprises retired Supreme Court judge N. Santosh Hegde, former chief election commiss- ioner J.M. Lyngdoh and retired Karnataka director-general of police Ajay Kumar Singh.

The panel’s notice inviting affidavits from witnesses and relatives was published in a vernacular and English daily both based in Imphal on February 9. The affidavits should reach the commission’s office at Manipur Bhavan, Sardar Patel Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, within 10 days.

The notice said the cross-examination would be held here on March 31 at the time and venue to be announced later.

“The setting up of the panel gave us hope of justice. However, we are disappointed by the manner in which the commission is functioning,” Laifungbam Debabrata Roy, convener of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights in Manipur and UN, today said.

Roy said the time given was too short and not many people were aware of the notification. He said the relatives, witnesses and interested persons could not afford to go to Delhi to submit the affidavit and no contact number or fax number was given in the notification.

The group had sent a memorandum to the commission on February 18 listing a charter of demands. A copy of the memorandum was also sent to the Supreme Court Chief Justice Altamas Kabir.

The demands include setting up of a commission office in Imphal, where affidavits could be submitted and extension of the last date for submission of affidavit and material evidence till February 28.

It also demanded the notification should be re-issued through local All India Radio station, television channels and newspapers at least three times.

“Everything should be done in Imphal. We want the panel to visit the sites of the killings and announce its work schedule. There is lack of transparency in the whole process. We want the inquiry in such a manner that justice is delivered,” Roy said.

Rights crusader Irom Sharmila today called on the people to stand by her and raise a united voice against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

Sharmila will be freed on March 12 after completion of one more year of her sentence. “If we are united, we can see the act repealed,” she said, while talking to reporters during her routine appearance at an Imphal court today.

Sharmila has been on hunger strike since November 2000, demanding repeal of the army act.