GUWAHATI: “When the culprits are roaming around with sophisticated weapons can a search operation be stopped because magistrates are not available?”

The rhetorical question came from an army spokesman on Friday while reacting to recent news reports that the army had committed atrocities and conducted search operations without an accompanying magistrate as required by the rules.

The spokesman complained that there are not enough magistrates to accompany army men on search operations. Only last Wednesday were DDOs  District Development Officers  armed with magisterial Powers so that they can go along with army men whenever required” he said.

Still the spokesman did not deny the allegations of army atrocities. After the explosion at Nalbari which killed six jawans something went wrong” he conceded According to sources a magisterial inquiry has been one-sided into the charges.

The charges don’t come from opponents of the Government Even Chief Minister Hiteswar Saikis has been critical of the army for conducting a number of searches from April 1  to April 1 independently without involving either a magistrate on a police official

He admitted that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act had even given army personnel the power to open fire but insisted that the army had been given clear {guidelines for using this and other powers

According to the guidelines an army search party must be accompanied by representatives of the State Police and the State administration in the form of magistrate the village chief and an army medical team.

The inhabitants of the house on village suspected of sheltering militants are first asked to come out. The men are then segregated after which a methodical search begins for militants arms ammunition documents and any their incriminating material.

The Chief Minister wondered Whether the replacement of the army commander in charge of Operation Rhino had caused a communication gap leading to the excesses

He was referring to the fact that General Ajay Singh who was in charge of Operation Rhino had been transferred and replaced by General Jameel.

The Chief Minister admitted that the State Government had not briefed the new General but said that any guideline to the army was assumed to be in force unless specifically withdrawn

Article extracted from this publication >> May 8, 1996