Staged Killings Spark Kashmir Protests

The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 6, 2007; 2:30 PM

SRINAGAR, India -- The story, as security forces told it, was simple: they'd killed a Pakistani militant during a gunbattle in a Himalayan town late last year. The dead man was a member of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, a Pakistan-based group feared across India.

But Abdur Rahman Padder was actually a 35-year-old Indian carpenter and father of five. He died, authorities now say, as part of a murky plot by rogue policemen who were killing innocent villagers to claim rewards and government honors.

The revelation of his death, and the exhumation of his body and the bodies of at least four other civilians believed to have died in similar circumstances, has deeply shaken Kashmir. It has set off days of protests and strikes, and deepened the cynicism of Kashmiris, who have complained for years that innocent people were being killed by security forces.

"Tyrants leave Kashmir!" hundreds of stone-throwing protesters chanted Tuesday as they marched through Srinagar, Kashmir's main city. "We want freedom!"

Police used tear gas and bamboo batons to battle the demonstrators, eventually detaining 12, said Ahmed Khan, a senior police officer.

Authorities have promised an inquiry, but few Kashmiris are satisfied.

"Killers can't be judges. How can the police investigate the killings when they are themselves involved in these deaths?" says Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chairman of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, an alliance of legal Kashmiri separatist groups.

Padder disappeared Dec. 8, days after paying his life's savings _ 75,000 rupees, or about $1,700 _ to his cousin, a police official, to secure a government job.

Over the following weeks, police investigators trying to track him down traced his mobile phone to members of the police anti-insurgency squad _ and began unraveling the plot. Authorities now believe he was killed the night he disappeared during a staged gunbattle, or "encounter killing" as they're known here.

Investigators say Padder's cousin, Farooq Ahmed, organized the five killings, and over the weekend he and three other policemen, including two senior officers, were arrested for their role in either carrying out the killings or condoning them.

Ahmed's demand for 75,000 rupees for a job, a common practice in India's corruption-riddled bureaucracies, was pure greed, police say.

Ahmed "promised my husband a job, robbed him of his hard-earned money and later passed him on to killers," said Muneera, Padder's wife, holding their 3-month-old daughter.

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© 2007 The Associated Press