SRINAGAR: The Army's probe into the custodial disappearance of a Kashmiri youth last week hasn't made any major headway so far with the impoverished family of the victim accusing the forces of killing him in custody.

Three youth were picked up by a local unit of the Army's Rashtriya Rifles on last Thursday afternoon, according to locals, of whom two were later released on Friday after being allegedly tortured, while the whereabouts of the third, Manzoor Khan, remain unknown.

A resident of Devar village in north Kashmir's Lolab area, Khan, according to his family, worked as a daily-wage labourer to earn a livelihood while his family rears cattle. Manzoor Khan is also a distant relative of the J&K's rural development minister Abdul Haq Khan.

"They took us to the Devar camp where we were tortured. The Army personnel accused us of shielding militants and not cooperating with them. We kept telling them that we are innocent but they didn't listen to us," Nasrullah Khan, one of the victims who was later set free, told The Citizen over phone.

Following massive public uproar and protests in the area against the custodial disappearance, authorities last week registered an FIR on a complaint filed by the victim's family while the Army has also started a probe into the matter.

"We are in touch with the Army officials. A case has been registered. The Army has denied arresting the youth. The statements of the other two victims have been recorded. Once the investigation is complete, we will take action against the guilty," Deputy Commissioner Kupwara, Khalid Jehangir, said.

Sources said the police is ascertaining the last location of the disappeared youth using his mobile phone records but no major headway has been made into the case. Army’s Srinagar based spokesman Rajesh Kalia said a probe into the matter is underway.

This is not the first instance of Kashmiris disappearing in Army custody. In 2015, three villagers of Kupwara district went missing after being promised jobs by the Army. A Territorial Army man was arrested by the police but the whereabouts of the victims remains unknown.

The fate of Ghulam Jeelani Khatana, Mir Hussain Khatana and Ali Muhammad Sheikh remains unknown since they were taken by the Army man identified as Manzoor Ahmad Khowaja of 160 Battalion of Territorial Army who, according to court record, promised them jobs in the Army.

Enforced disappearances of civilians in the custody of armed forces is not an unusual phenomenon in Kashmir region where nearly 8000 people have 'vanished into thin air' over the last 28 years of insurgency, according to human rights activists, although the instances have gone down sharply in the last decade.

Commemorating the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) said that the “practice of enforced disappearances” in Kashmir has "resurfaced in the valley since last year".

"Since last year, there has been a significant increase in the abduction of civilians who after forced disappearances are being killed extra-judicially. At least eight such incidents have been reported across Jammu and Kashmir since more than a year, while one among the eight victims still remains missing”, an APDP spokesman said.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR )