NEW DELHI: The Indian Army, in totally unprecedented action, has convicted seven soldiers, including two officers involved in the 2010 Machil fake encounter case that had sparked off a massive agitation in the Kashmir Valley. All convicts have been awarded life imprisonment and their service benefits have been suspended.

The general court martial ordered into the incident January end this year, has found seven army soldiers guilty of the fake encounter, hatching a conspiracy and later branding the dead as Pakistani militants.

The convicted army personnel include the then Commanding Officer of the 4 Rajput regiment, who staged the encounter, Col DK Pathania , Captain Upendra Singh, Subedar Satbir Singh, Havildar Bir Singh, Sepoy Chadraban, Sepoy Nagendra Singh and Sepoy Narinder Singh. The Territorial Army man Abbas Hussain Shah was exonerated by the General Court Martial.

The encounter came to light when the Indian army on April 29, 2010 claimed to have killed three Pakistani militants in the Kalaroos area of North Kashmir’s Kupwara District, However, three missing complaints were also filed at the time by the local villagers of Nadihal.

According to the reports, two counter-insurgents Territorial Army rifleman Abbas Hussain and and former SPO Bashir Ahmad Lone lured three youths from Nadihal village Shezad Ahmad, Riyaz Ahmad and Mohammad Shafi to Kalaroos with the promise of job and money. They were killed in a fake encounter in an incident involving troopers of the 4 Rajput Regiment.

Soon after the police registered the complaint, the Army ordered a probe into the killing in which the Major was accused of entering into a criminal conspiracy to eliminate the three youths by branding them as terrorists. The J&K Government ordered a probe into the killings on May 27, 2010.

As the word of the fake encounter spread in Kashmir at the time, people staged massive protests, which started in the downtown area of old Srinagar City. On June 11, 2010, 17 year old Tufail Ahmad Matoo, became the first casuality of the protests. Tufail was hit by a tear gas shell fired by the local Police while he was returning to his house.

This death acted as a catalyst and protests broke out across the Valley with at least 112 persons being killed by the police in separate incidents during the six month logjam.

Meanwhile senior National Conference leader and chief spokesperson Mustafa Kamal praised the Indian Army and the central government for the verdict. “The Indian army has been the biggest barrier against development, and between government-people interaction. Today the verdict in the Machil fake encounter decision can somehow bridge this gap” Kamal said to The Citizen over the phone from Srinagar.

“The new dispensation at Center is more sensitive and has allowed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to work without interference unlike the Congress Government, who restricted him under one or the other pretext,” Kamal said.

He said that in the coming days more such cases will be dispensed and perpetrators of human rights abuses will be brought to Justice.

“This won’t stop here, earlier Army has apologized for Chattergam killing and soon Pathribal case too will be solved and the perpetrators will be punished,” he said

Meanwhile Jammu and Kashmir chief Minister Omar Abdullah welcomed the army decision and termed it a "watershed moment"

"The army has handed out life sentences to 7 inc the CO in the Machil fake encounter case of 2010. This is indeed a very welcome step. This is a watershed moment. No one in Kashmir ever believed that justice would be done in such cases. Faith in institutions disappeared" Abdullah tweeted.

"I hope that we never see such #Machil fake encounter type of incidents ever again & let this serve as a warning to those tempted to try," he added.