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Kashmir Newz Specials

Facts underground

The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons have located upto a thousand unnamed graves across the northern district of Indian administered Kashmir, which hold bodies claimed by police to be of foreign militants. The group which released a report ‘Facts Underground’ last week in Srinagar suspects the graves may hold answers to over estimated 10,000 disappearances in Kashmir. Faisul Yaseen reports.

Srinagar, April 04, 2008:

For Jana Begam, the recently released report of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) that revealed around 1,000 nameless graves had been found in cemetries across Indian administered Kashmir could be a death blow.

Indian troopers killed Begam's three sons while her fourth son was subjected to enforced disappearance.

Begam, a resident of Devsar village in north Kashmir's Kupwara district, has apprehensions that her missing son might also have suffered the fate her three other sons did.

She fears that his body must be buried in one of those 1,000 nameless graves the APDP has spotted.

"I had no information about the graves of my two sons who were killed in encounter with troops. But later police showed me their photos and told me that they are buried at Rikhipora. Now they are not allowing me to exhume their bodies," Begam said.

"I fear my fourth son may also be buried in one such grave," she said.

According to human rights activists, more than 10,000 people have disappeared in the region during the past 18 years of armed rebellion against the Indian rule.

The chief minister of Kashmir, Ghulam Nabi Azad, recently said only 1,017 people had disappeared, although in 2003 his predecessor Mufti Muhammad Sayeed put the number at about 4,000.

The APDP, that represents parents and relatives of people subjected to enforced disappearance since 1989, year that insurgency broke out in the region, on Friday released a report "Facts Underground".

Begam, also a member of the group, released the report, which is based on the account of villagers where the mass graves have been found.

The 23-page report compiled over the last two years contains a list of 940 to1000 nameless graves in 18 villages of Baramulla, Boniyar and Uri, which lies close to the ceasefire line, the de facto border which divides Kashmir into Indian administered and Pakistan administered parts.

Parvez Imroz, the APDP patron and the lawyer of the parents of the disappeared person in Kashmir quoting villagers says most bodies buried in these nameless graves were not of foreigners, as claimed by Indian troops and the government in Indian administered Kashmir but of innocent Kashmiris.

He said that Atta Muhammad Khan, a caretaker of a graveyard at Bimyar village, had told APDP that only six out of 203 graves there had names on them.

He said that 235 unidentified bodies were found in two graveyards at Kichama village, while 200 were buried in Bijhama village.

Imroz said that the investigations were conducted with the permission of the district magistrate and the Indian army.

Last year on April 6 and 7, police exhumed the bodies of five persons after revelations surfaced that they were killed in fake encounters.

Police had claimed that the five men killed at Panchalthan were "foreign mercenaries" responsible for the massacre of 35 Sikhs at Chattisinghpora on March 20, 2000.

However locals contested the police claim and said that all the five were innocent civilians who had disappeared from various parts of the district in the aftermath of the Chattisinghpora massacre.

They were later identified by the relatives as Zahoor Ahmad Dalal son of Abdul Gaffar Dalal of Moominabad, Bashir Ahmad son of Abdul Aziz Bhat of Halan, Muhammad Yousuf Malik son of Abdul Kabir Malik of Halan, Juma Khan son of Faqir Khan of Brari Angan and Juma Khan son of Amirullah Khan of Brari Angan.

This opened a Pandora's Box of fishy deals and the families of people subjected to enforced disappearances started fearing their dear ones might have suffered the same fate at the hands of Indian troops.

Locals said that they were not allowed to identify the bodies as they were charred beyond recognition and buried at Chogam, Sanglan and Wuzkhah by the troopers themselves.

They alleged that the five missing persons were taken by the troops to Panchalthan forests where they were butchered alive and then burnt to hide their identity.

A large number of people staged protest demonstration in south Kashmir's Anantnag district and demanded exhumation of the bodies.

On April 3, police fired upon protestors near Brakpora and killed eight more unarmed civilians.

Imroz said so far 38 cases of disappeared people have surfaced who were killed by the paramilitary troopers and labeled foreign mercenaries.

"Majority of them were non-combatants," said Imroz, who is also president of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies (JKCCS).

Alarmed at the number of such nameless graves in Baramulla district, Imroz said, "If 1000 such graves have been identified in this area alone, it is hard to imagine the total number of such graves in the entire region."

APDP is now approaching the international human rights organizations to help find them more such graves in the region.

"Because of the lack of resources the government is turning a blind eye towards the issue. So we are engaging international human rights organisation," Imroz said.

"EAAF (Argentine Forensic Anthropology) and ICMP (International Commission on Missing Persons) have the necessary skills to carry out a scientific excavation and establish the truth. They can let us and the families of the disappeared persons know what happened to their dear ones. We request them to consider our request and start investigations," he added.

Imroz said that the October 8, 2005 quake helped trace the nameless graves.

"Earlier, people had no access to these areas but after the quake, they were allowed to move into these areas as media and NGOs frequented the area those days for the rehabilitation of the quake victims and the media coverage of the devastation after quake," he added.

However Indian army has dismissed the report saying that it was designed to malign the troopers.

The government says that most of the people who disappeared are Kashmiri youths who crossed into neighboring Pakistan administered Kashmir for getting arms training to fight Indian rule in the region.

But Jana Begum doesn't believe the government version.

She empathizes with the parents of other disappeared Kashmiri youth. "Their mothers too must have met my fate," Begum frowns.

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Click here to read this story. For reproduction rights contact Kashmir Newz Desk

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