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regular-article-logo Tuesday, 21 May 2024

Action follows Poonch excesses: Protests, outcry force removal of brigade commander

An official said Brigadier Padam Acharya of 13 Sector Rashtriya Rifles and three other officers had been 'attached' pending internal investigations, implying they had been divested of the leadership of their brigade

Muzaffar Raina Srinagar Published 26.12.23, 05:09 AM
Chief of army staff General Manoj Pande during a visit to review the security situation in the Poonch sector on Monday.

Chief of army staff General Manoj Pande during a visit to review the security situation in the Poonch sector on Monday. PTI picture.

The army has removed a brigadier, a colonel and two other officers following the alleged custody deaths on Friday of three Poonch residents.

An official said Brigadier Padam Acharya of 13 Sector Rashtriya Rifles and three other officers had been “attached” pending internal investigations, implying they had been divested of the leadership of their brigade. This was done, sources said, to try and placate the local population and ensure proper investigations.

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The army had taken away nine men from Mastandara village in Bafliaz, Poonch, on Friday after a militant ambush killed four soldiers and injured three. A few more men were picked up from other villages.

Except for the elderly Lal Hussain, all the others picked up from Mastandara were allegedly tortured. Three died while the five others were admitted to an army hospital with serious injuries.

Villagers suggested that Hussain, who is in his 70s, was spared the alleged torture because of his age and because he briefly fell unconscious.

Local people have sought stern action against the soldiers responsible, and removal of the army camp involved.

“This camp should be removed from the area immediately. We don’t feel safe here,” Mohammad Sidiq, the local panch (elected panchayat representative from the ward), whose nephew Showkat Hussain is among the dead, told The Telegraph.

Sidiq said Hussain was one of those seen in the graphic video clips of alleged custody torture that had surfaced on Saturday but whose authenticity this newspaper could not verify independently.

Fatima, Hussain’s widow, who is expecting her first child next month, said she and several other village women had “chased” the army team as it picked the men up from their homes on Friday and took them to the camp on foot. The men dared not follow.

“The camp is 2km away. We chased them all the distance, pleading that they release them. They (soldiers) kept thrashing them on the way and they were later dragged inside the camp,” she told this newspaper.

“We could hear their cries, standing outside. They told us to go and warned that we would otherwise meet with the same fate.”

Sidiq said more women assembled outside the army camp gates and raised an outcry.

“We saw the army dragging the men out after several hours, some in sacks. We thought they were dead but they told us they were unconscious. I put my dupatta on their feet, requesting them to let me see the face of my husband, but they did not relent,” Fatima said.

The bodies were handed over to the families the next day.

Mir Hussain, whose son Mohammad Israel is among the survivors, said he had met the young man in the army hospital on Sunday.

“He could barely talk. I don’t think he will ever be able to stand on his feet again and go to work. Usko nakara bana diya hai (He has been incapacitated). If he does recover at all, it might take years,” he said.

The army chief, General Manoj Pande, arrived in Jammu on Monday to review the security situation following the recent military and civilian deaths.

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