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UK advised India over Golden Temple raid

British foreign minister admits London advised New Delhi over 1984 assault in Amritsar but says it had "limited impact".

Last updated: 04 Feb 2014 17:48
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Operation Blue Star left at least 500 people dead and triggered a cycle of bloody revenge attacks [File: AFP]

The British government has admitted it gave advice to India before the deadly 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday that an official investigation had shown Britain did advise India on planning a deadly attack against Sikh separatists in the Golden Temple, but said its advice had "limited impact".

"The nature of the UK's assistance was purely advisory, limited and provided to the Indian government at an early stage," Hague told parliament. "It had limited impact on the tragic events that unfolded at the temple three months later."

Prime Minister David Cameron ordered a review into the matter last month after newly released official papers suggested that Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, had sent an officer from the elite special air service (SAS) to advise the Indians on the raid.

The storming of the Golden Temple, considered Sikhism's holiest shrine, was one of the most violent episodes in the Indian government's battle against Sikh separatists.

The investigation was ordered after newly-released documents revealed that an SAS officer had advised New Delhi on how to flush out the separatists from the temple.

The officer told the Indian military to launch a surprise helicopter attack, according to the report. This plan was to be used only if negotiations had failed and was designed to minimise casualties, Hague said.

But the eventual assault, codenamed Operation Blue Star, "was a ground assault without the element of surprise and without a helicopter-borne element," Hague told parliament.

Revenge attacks

The raid on the separatists, who were demanding an independent Sikh homeland, left at least 500 people dead and triggered a cycle of bloody revenge attacks.

India's then-prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated four months later by two Sikh bodyguards, sparking anti-Sikh riots in which thousands of people were killed, mostly in New Delhi.

Hague said there was no evidence that Britain had received advance warning of Operation Blue Star, or that the former colonial power had provided any further advice to the Indian military.

But he admitted that some of the defence ministry's documents on the assault have since been destroyed.

Britain gave the initial advice on the request of the Indian government because the two countries have an "important relationship", Hague said.

He dismissed suggestions from some British Sikhs that the advice was given in the hope that it would win defence contracts for British companies.

Retired lieutenant-general Kuldip Singh Brar, who led the assault, said last week that it was the first he had heard of any British involvement.

Four members of a Sikh gang were jailed in Britain in December for slashing Brar's throat in an attempted revenge attack as he walked through London with his wife two years ago.

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Source:
AP
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