Indian authorities deny human rights violations in Kashmir and say they probe all such reports and punish the guilty
More than 2,000 bodies have been found buried in several unmarked graves in Kashmir, believed to be victims of the divided region's separatist revolt, an Indian human rights commission said in a report.
"At 38 places visited in north Kashmir, there were 2,156 unidentified dead bodies buried in unmarked graves," the inquiry report published on Saturday by the Indian government's Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (J&KSHRC) said.
The graves were found in dozens of villages near the Line of Control, the military line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
Nearly 50,000 people have been killed in mainly Muslim Kashmir since a revolt against New Delhi's rule began in 1989.
The report, which comes after a three-year inquiry by an 11-member team, is the first official acknowledgement that civilians killed in the two-decade conflict may have been buried in unmarked graves.
It stopped short of confirming that suspicion, long alleged by rights groups, but said: "there is every possibility that ... various unmarked graves at 38 places of north Kashmir may contain the dead bodies of locals".
Indian authorities have consistently denied systematic human rights violations in Kashmir and say they probe all such reports and punish the guilty.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars since 1947 for control of the territory, which is divided between them. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training separatist fighters, but Pakistan says it only offers moral and diplomatic support for their cause.
More than 68,000 people have been killed in the uprising against Indian rule. Most have been civilians.
Rights groups have said some 8,000 people have disappeared, and accused government forces of staging gun battles to cover up killings.
The groups also say suspected separatist fighters have been arrested and never heard from again.
The state government has countered that most of the missing were likely Kashmiri youths who crossed into Pakistan for weapons training.
In 2008, a rights group reported unmarked graves in 55 villages across the northern regions of Baramulla, Bandipore and Handwara, after which researchers and other groups reported finding thousands of single and mass graves without markers.
Indian officials set up the commission to investigate and also began a separate police investigation, the findings of which have yet to be released.
The commission's 17-page report also urged DNA profiling to identify the bodies, saying the matter should be "investigated thoroughly by an impartial agency'.'
The head of a local rights group welcomed the report as vindicating its research into the graves. "Security agencies accused us of maligning the image of the armed forces,'' said Pervez Imroz of the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice.
Now, "we will seek judicial intervention if the government fails to implement the report's recommendations'.'