Indian police exhume bodies of three young men in India-administered Kashmir, killed by the Indian army in what relatives and activists say was a "fake" gun battle.

Notorious armed forces act, AFSPA, gives the Indian military in disputed Kashmir sweeping powers to search, seize and even shoot suspects on sight without fear of prosecution.
Notorious armed forces act, AFSPA, gives the Indian military in disputed Kashmir sweeping powers to search, seize and even shoot suspects on sight without fear of prosecution. (AP)

Government investigators have exhumed the bodies of three young men in India-administered Kashmir, two weeks after the Indian military in a rare admission said its soldiers exceeded their legal powers in killing the men they described as "Pakistani terrorists".

A team of police and medical officials exhumed the bodies of three men in western Baramulla district and handed them over to their families for burial at their remote village in southern Rajouri district, police said.

Mohammed Yousuf, the father of one of the victims, said the three were "murdered in cold blood".

"Our sons have been proved innocent and we are now waiting for justice," Yousuf said. "The killers must face justice."

READ MORE: A sleepy Kashmiri village and the men killed by Indian Forces

Staged gun battle

The Indian army on July 18 said its soldiers killed three "unidentified Pakistani terrorists" in Kashmir's southern Shopian area. 

Police, who usually participate in counterinsurgency operations, said the July 18 encounter was a solo operation by the army. 

Police, however, later buried the bodies in a remote cemetery in Baramulla.

About a month later, three families in Rajouri identified the victims as their missing relatives using photographs of the bodies that circulated on social media. 

The families filed a complaint with police, accusing soldiers of killing their relatives in a staged gun battle.

The families said the three men went to Shopian province to work as labourers and were last heard from on July 17.

Police ordered an investigation, the results of which have yet to be released.

READ MORE: Amid Covid-19, India secretly buries Kashmiri rebels

Notorious emergency powers

On September 18, the Indian military admitted wrongdoing and said its internal probe identified the three men killed as local residents, without explaining how the military had identified them. 

It also said an army investigation showed the soldiers had exceeded the powers granted to them under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA.

The notorious act gives the Indian military in Kashmir sweeping powers to search, seize and even shoot suspects on sight without fear of prosecution. 

Under the act, local authorities need federal approval to prosecute army or paramilitary soldiers in civilian courts.

The special powers were given to the military in 1990, a year after an armed rebellion erupted in Kashmir seeking the Himalayan region’s independence or merger with neighbouring Pakistan, which also controls part of Kashmir and claims the entire region.

Kashmiri civilians and activists for years have accused Indian troops of abusing their powers and repeatedly targeting civilians.

Killings for rewards  

In 2000, the Indian army killed five men it alleged were rebels responsible for the massacre of 35 Sikhs in Kashmir. 

An investigation later found the five were local villagers killed in a faked firefight.

In 2010, a massive uprising erupted in Kashmir after a police investigation found Indian soldiers had killed three civilians in a staged gun battle and then said the victims were rebels in order to claim a reward for killing them. 

The army responded by suspending two officers.

India has rejected every request since 1989 to prosecute Indian soldiers in civilian courts in Kashmir for alleged rights abuses including murder and rape, according to official documents.

READ MORE: Kashmir's never-ending conflict, a timeline of 70 years

Source: AP