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Assam Rifles thumbs nose at panel

By G Vinayak in Guwahati
August 19, 2004 15:57 IST
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After refusing to cooperate with the judicial commission set up by the Assam government to enquire into the death of Thangjam Manorama, the Assam Rifles has now gone a step further and challenged the very legality of the one-man commission to examine its personnel.

17 Assam Rifles filed a writ petition in the Guwahati high court on Wednesday in this regard, army sources in Guwahati said.

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Manorama -- who the army says was a member of the banned People's Liberation Army -- was found dead hours after she was picked up by the Assam Rifles on the night of July 11.

Her death sparked off a massive agitation in Manipur against the continuation of the controversial Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, which gives sweeping powers of search, detention and shoot to kill to the army and forces operating under its command.

On Wednesday, the C Upendra Commission waited in vain for five Assam Rifles personnel to appear before it.

It was the third time that the Assam Rifles refused to allow its men to depose before the commission, saying they were under threat from militant groups who had vowed to avenge Manorama's death.

Instead, a man who identified himself as deputy judge advocate general of the army filed an application before the panel on behalf of the commanding officer of 17 Assam Rifles and four other witnesses of the unit.

The application prayed to keep the proceedings against the five men in abeyance in view of the writ petition filed before the HC.

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On the summons issued, the application said the witnesses "are not even within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Commission to appear on the fixed date".

It further said that the application is being made bona-fide and in the interest of justice. The commission however refused to recognise the counsel of the Assam Rifles, since he did not have any authorisation letter.

Besides the CO of 17 Assam Rifles, Colonel Jagmohan Singh, the other four witnesses listed in the summon orders are Naik Subedar Digambar Dutt, Havildar Sureshkumar and riflemen Ajit Singh and T Lotha.

Human rights activists in Manipur point out it is precisely because of such immunity enjoyed by armed forces personnel under the provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that they want it to be scrapped.

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G Vinayak in Guwahati