Police said the men died in "crossfire" during a shootout inside a commercial complex in Srinagar but families said they were civilians and accused security forces of murdering the pair in "cold blood".

Witnesses and families of the civilians have denied the police version and said Indian troops used them as human shields during the standoff and killed them deliberately.
Witnesses and families of the civilians have denied the police version and said Indian troops used them as human shields during the standoff and killed them deliberately. (AFP)

Authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir have ordered an investigation into a police raid that killed four people and led to protests from families of three of the victims who say their relatives were gunned down in cold blood. 

Manoj Sinha, New Delhi’s top administrator in the region, said on Thursday the investigation will be led by a senior civilian officer and the “government will take suitable action as soon as the report is submitted in a time-bound manner." 

He said his administration "will ensure there is no injustice.”

The investigation order follows a statement from police that said that two civilians were among those who died in crossfire when government forces on Monday attacked suspected rebels in Srinagar, the divided region's main city.

Witnesses and families of the civilians and one suspected rebel have denied the police version and said Indian troops used them as human shields during the standoff and killed them deliberately.

Police said the rebels included a Pakistani citizen, but offered no evidence. They also described one of the civilians as an “overground worker,” a term Indian authorities use for rebel sympathisers and their civilian supporters.

Authorities later secretly buried all of the victims in a remote northwestern village.

READ MORE: India beefs up security in Kashmir after violence flares

Authorities exhume bodies 

Hours after ordering the probe, authorities exhumed the two bodies from a remote graveyard where they were hurriedly interred in the middle of the night without their families present.

"The bodies will be handed over to the families soon," a police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Kashmir’s separatists called for a shutdown on Friday in the region to protest the killings.

In the last two years, authorities have buried the bodies of hundreds of suspected rebels and their alleged associates, including civilians, in unmarked graves in remote areas, denying their families proper funerals.

Calming public anger

Authorities say the policy is aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus and to avoid potential law and order problems during funerals.

The policy has added to widespread anti-India anger and some rights groups have fiercely criticised it as a violation of religious rights. 

Rights groups also say subsequent investigations rarely result in prosecutions and are often aimed at calming public anger.

Kashmiris for years have accused Indian troops of targeting civilians and committing abuses with impunity. Such allegations include staging gunfights and then saying the innocent victims were militants to claim rewards and promotions. 

Indian officials acknowledge the problem but deny abuses are part of a strategy. They say the allegations are mostly separatist propaganda meant to demonise troops.

Both India and Pakistan claim the divided territory in its entirety. Rebels in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir have been fighting New Delhi’s rule since 1989.

READ MORE: Why is Kashmir seeing a surge in violence?

Source: AP