A combo image shows Imtiyaz Ahmed, Abrar Ahmed and Mohammed Ibrar. File
An army officer shot dead three unarmed civilians in Indian-administered Kashmir to claim a cash reward for killing separatists, police investigators say.
Captain Bhoopendra Singh — who was charged with murder and conspiracy in late December over the July killing of the three labourers — staged a gun battle hoping to be rewarded with Rs2 million ($27,200), according to part of a police charge sheet seen by AFP on Monday.
Singh and two civilian associates claimed the trio were armed, but a police investigation alleged he planted weapons on the men to make them look like militants.
Government forces are paid up to $27,000 by authorities for killing militants. The rewards are offered by the government, rather than military.
Rights activists warn the financial incentives have led to extra-judicial killings of innocent people. "Legal impunity... combined with the policy of cash rewards is likely to continue to lead to staged gun battles in which innocent civilians are killed," a leading human rights lawyer, Parvez Imroz, said.
Kashmir has been under emergency military law since 1990 that gives soldiers wide powers to shoot suspected rebels.
The law bars soldiers accused of crimes from being tried in civilian courts unless specifically permitted by the government.
In 2010, three Indian army officers were found guilty by a court martial of killing three labourers who had been branded Pakistani infiltrators near the so-called Line of Control.
The killings sparked months of protests that left more than 100 civilians dead.
Pakistan's army later said that "unprovoked cease-fire violations" by Indian troops killed five civilians and one soldier and wounded another three civilians and two troops across the highly militarized Line of Control that divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India.
Security forces killed four militants in Indian-administered Kashmir on Saturday, police said, as the disputed Muslim-majority territory simmers under a lockdown imposed by New Delhi after it revoked its constitutional autonomy in August.
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An armed rebellion against Indian rule has raged for decades in Kashmir, and has left tens of thousands dead, mainly civilians. New Delhi accuses Pakistan of arming and training anti-India rebels and sending them across the border to launch attacks on Indian forces.
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