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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK
Pakistan army 'killing farmers'
Pakistan farmer
Farmers are being brutalised, says the report
Pakistani troops are killing and torturing farmers who refuse to give up their land rights to the army, a leading human rights group says.

Human Rights Watch says paramilitary forces working with soldiers and police are guilty of "brutal repression" of tenant farmers in Punjab province.

It accuses security forces of four extra-judicial killings in 2002-2003 in the campaign to acquire land.

A military spokesman denied the allegations, saying they were baseless.

Villages 'besieged'

The 54-page report by the New York-based watchdog accuses paramilitary forces of subjecting tens of thousands of farmers to a campaign of murder, arbitrary detention and torture.

Four extra-judicial killings between January 2002 and May 2003 took place as part of attempts to coerce the farmers into compliance
Human Rights Watch report

On two occasions, the paramilitaries literally besieged villages, preventing people, food and public services from entering or leaving for weeks on end, it says.

"Pakistan's military and paramilitary forces are brutalising their own people in the Punjab instead of protecting them," said Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division.

At the heart of the dispute are tens of thousands of acres of fertile state-owned land in Okara district.

It is owned by the provincial government but managed by the army under an agreement struck with the old British colonial powers early last century.

The farmers began a fight for ownership of the land they have tilled for decades two years ago.

Human Rights Watch says its report is based on more than 100 interviews with tenant farmers, their children and some of those who carried out the alleged abuses.

'No truth' in report

Pakistan's government has denied similar accusations in the past - notably in 2002 when the army was accused of forcing farmers to sign new tenancy contracts.

On Wednesday, the army's top spokesman said there was "no truth" in the report.

"People can go and visit and see for themselves what's happening there," Major-General Shaukat Sultan told Reuters news agency.

A senior military officer from Okara also denied the claims, saying there had been no manhandling or torture.

He said the claims were propaganda used by non-government organisations to politicise the issue.

He also said collectively the farmers owed the military $3.5m in unpaid dues under existing contracts.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Paul Anderson
"The military immediately dismissed the report as false"



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