India army chief opposes ending tough emergency law

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's army chief said on Friday he opposed ending tough emergency laws in insurgency-hit areas of Kashmir and the northeast that offer security forces near complete legal immunity.

The statement by General Bikram Singh, India's chief of army staff, came two days after a militant attack in Muslim-majority Kashmir killed five paramilitary policemen. Both attackers were shot dead by Indian forces.

"I feel the time is not right to remove AFSPA (the Armed Forces Special Powers Act). It is an enabling act and we should not take it away at the moment," Gen Singh told a conference organised by the media group India Today.

"It is important to remain on guard," he added.

Wednesday's raid, claimed by the pro-Pakistan Kashmiri militant group Hizbul Mujahideen, was the deadliest in Indian Kashmir for nearly five years.

AFSPA was introduced in 1990 in Indian Kashmir to give hundreds of thousands of army and paramilitary forces there sweeping powers to detain people, use deadly force and destroy property.

Human rights groups say it provides cover for soldiers who are regularly accused of murder and rape, but they cannot be prosecuted unless the Indian government gives its sanction.

Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah argued recently that the national government should abolish the emergency law because violence has dropped there to its lowest levels since the start of a separatist insurgency in 1989.

More than 47,000 people have died in the fighting in Kashmir by an official count, while rights groups estimate up to 70,000 have lost their lives.

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