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India admits killing wrong men for Sikh massacre


SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Five men killed by Indian forces two years ago for the massacre of more than 30 Sikhs had been proved innocent, India has said.

"The deceased were not foreign terrorists as claimed by the forces who led the operation, but innocent civilians," chief minister of Indian Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, told the state assembly.

He said he had called for a federal investigation into the incident which caused an uproar in Kashmir "in view of the gravity of the offence".

Thirty-six Sikhs were killed in March 2000 in remote Chitisinghpora village in the disputed Himalayan region, hours before a visit to India by then U.S. President Bill Clinton. Clinton strongly condemned the killings.

Four days later, security forces said they had killed five militants who they said carried out the massacre. The forces identified them as "foreign terrorists" from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen groups.

Both organisations denied involvement and blamed India for the massacre which they said was aimed at discrediting the Kashmiri independence cause during Clinton's visit.

Local people staged massive street protests, saying security forces had picked up five innocent youths, shot them and burnt their bodies beyond recognition.

The protests prompted authorities to exhume the bodies and carry out forensic tests. The procedure was repeated this year after two forensic laboratories found evidence of tampering and the state government admitted officials had faked the samples.

Human rights groups have accused security forces in the past of widespread abuses. The Indian government says it investigates all allegations and punishes wrongdoers.

Scenic Kashmir, at the centre of a seven-month military stand-off between India and Pakistan, has witnessed a series of massacres since a bloody separatist revolt erupted in 1989.

On Saturday, suspected Islamic militants killed 28 people in a mainly Hindu slum in the southern Kashmiri city of Jammu.

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