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Indian soldiers appeal convictions in Kashmir killings

INDIAN SOLDIERS APPEAL CONVICTIONS IN KASHMIR KILLINGS

Five former Indian soldiers are to be released pending their retrial for the 2010 killing of three civilians, the troops' lawyers said Wednesday.

The soldiers, including a former colonel and captain, were jailed for life two years ago and dismissed from the army when a military tribunal found them guilty of killing the three men and staging a fake encounter with militants.

The trio -- aged 27, 20 and 19 -- were shown to have no connection to any militant group and had been lured to their deaths in Machil, near the Line of Control between Indian- and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, by an offer to work as porters for the army.

The tribunal found they had been killed for financial reward and recognition.

In a statement, the soldiers' lawyers said: "The Armed Forces Tribunal bench headed by Justice V.K. Shali suspended the punishment awarded to these personnel and granted them bail in the case.

"The suspension of punishment means that the troops would be out of jail while the court would continue to hear the case on the trial conducted by the force against them."

The lawyers added that the soldiers had appealed their convictions as the original army investigation had "failed to establish the chain of evidences".

They are due to be released on bail in the next few days.

The killings, which came to be known as the "Machil fake encounter", contributed to anti-Indian protests that lasted for six months in 2010.

The court martial was the first instance of Indian soldiers being convicted of killing civilians in a staged gun battle.

Indian troops in Jammu Kashmir enjoy relative immunity from legal investigation under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which removes them from civilian jurisdiction.

Kashmiri resistance groups have fought for independence from India or unification with neighboring Pakistan. Since 1989, more than 70,000 people have been reportedly killed.

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