National/World

India seeks return of accused soldier from US

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

India will ask the United States to extradite an ex-army officer who is accused of kidnapping and killing a Kashmiri human rights lawyer 15 years ago and is now living in California, investigators said Tuesday.

Avtar Singh, who was a major in the Indian army in the 1990s, fled the country after he was accused of killing Jaleel Andrabi in Indian-controlled Kashmir's main city, Srinagar.

His location was discovered after he was arrested Feb. 21 in California in a domestic violence case and later released on bail, said Raja Ajaz Ali, a police officer and Interpol liaison officer in Indian Kashmir.

"We've obtained a fresh arrest warrant against him, and we're expediting the case for his extradition," Ali said. "(The) government of India has given us a clear go ahead in the case."

U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Fitzsimmons declined to comment on the case.

Andrabi disappeared in March 1996 at the height of an anti-India uprising, and his body was recovered 19 days later in a local river. He had been shot in the head and his eyes gouged out.

A subsequent police investigation said Andrabi had been picked up from his home by Indian troops and killed in their custody, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the contents of the report.

The probe blamed Singh and his soldiers for the killing and also accused Singh of involvement in the killing of six other Kashmiri men. No soldier has been punished for Andrabi's killing, human rights lawyers say.

Arshad Andrabi, the slain man's brother and also a lawyer, said India never seriously pursued the case in the past.

"It is not by the efforts of the Indian government that Major Avtar Singh is cornered. It's by an accident," he said. "There is a little hope of justice with this system, but we will not give up. We'll continue to fight."

Hafizullah Mir, a human rights lawyer, said Singh was tracked to California in 2009 with the help of Canadian Center for International Justice, a human rights advocacy group.

The government was asked to pursue extradition, but it did not, Mir said.

Anti-India sentiment runs deep in Kashmir, a region divided between India and Pakistan, but claimed by both.

Since 1989, nearly a dozen rebel groups have fought Indian security forces for independence of Indian-controlled Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan. More than 68,000 people, mostly civilian, have been killed in the uprising and subsequent Indian crackdown.

Human rights workers have complained for years that innocent people have disappeared or been killed by government forces in staged gunbattles.

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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