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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 February 2007, 17:17 GMT
Kashmir police on killing charges
Accused senior officer of Jammu and Kashmir Police, HR Parihar
The accused policemen were formally charged in a Srinagar court
Seven policeman in Indian-administered Kashmir have been charged with murdering a man and trying to cover it up by saying he was a militant.

They are charged with murdering a civilian and criminal conspiracy.

Correspondents say the charges in Srinagar are highly unusual, and are the first to be brought in a series of alleged killings in faked gun battles.

Human rights groups say thousands of people have disappeared during 18 years of insurgency against Indian rule.

Cold blood

"The accused have been charged with criminal conspiracy, abduction, murder and destruction of evidence," said Farooq Ahmed, the senior police officer heading the investigation into the killings.

Bus carrying the accused policeman
The accused arrived at the court by bus

The victim was Abdul Rehman Paddar, a 35-year-old carpenter, who was shot dead in cold blood in December.

It is alleged the officers - including a senior superintendent of police and a deputy superintendent of police - picked up Mr Paddar in Srinagar then staged a gun battle, or so-called "fake encounter".

The officers are suspected of falsely claiming that the man they had killed was a Pakistani militant, which made them eligible to receive handsome cash rewards from the government.

It is the first time since the Kashmir insurgency began 18 years ago that such senior officials have faced such serious charges.

The crime was only uncovered after the body was exhumed four weeks ago and DNA tests identified it to be that of Mr Paddar.

Rare prosecutions

"The killers of my husband should be hanged," Mr Paddar's wife, Muneera, said after hearing the seven accused would be charged with a capital offence.

She was speaking from the Srinagar court where the charges were announced.

Kashmir protest
There have been frequent protests against 'fake encounters'

Investigators are looking into four other similar cases of civilian disappearances, and the Indian army is conducting its own inquiries because of allegations soldiers were also involved in the killings.

The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Delhi says that in almost two decades of conflict in Kashmir several thousand civilians have vanished.

Our correspondent says that many disappeared after being arrested by security forces, but prosecutions are extremely rare.

Families of thousands of people who have disappeared in Kashmir during the insurgency have long demanded that their cases be investigated so that missing people can formally be declared dead.

Last month, five bodies, including that of Mr Paddar, were exhumed in connection with investigations into charges of staged gun battles.

The killings triggered violent protests across Kashmir.

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