May 28, 2015 / 2:39 PM / 2 years ago

India's Tripura state strips army of shoot-to-kill powers

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) - Lawmakers in India’s northeastern state of Tripura on Thursday revoked a controversial law that had given the military shoot-to-kill powers and shielded soldiers from prosecution for 18 years.

The withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was hailed by human rights groups, who say it could pave the way for other states to roll back special powers used by the army to contain separatist, leftist and tribal rebels.

The law is still in force in other states of the northeast where violence has surged in recent years. Clashes claimed 450 lives in the region last year, according to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, a think-tank.

But Tripura has been relatively peaceful in recent years, giving the state government a chance to take what its chief minister said was “a bold step”.

“The council of ministers decided to withdraw the AFSPA from the state because of significant decrease of militancy,” Manik Sarkar said in the state capital Agartala.

“We want people to live without fear and the state police will always be there to protect them,” he said, adding that the law had been imposed in 1997 to counter armed factions demanding independence from India.

The special powers for “disturbed areas” were first used in 1958 by the federal government and subsequently extended to most of the northeast, most recently to Arunchal Pradesh, which borders China. They have been in force in the disputed region of Kashmir since 1990.

Abeek Roy, member of the Tripura Human Rights Group, blamed the law for extra-judicial killings and arbitrary detentions by security forces and said other states should follow suit.

“The army tortured people in our state for years and I am glad the government has finally canceled their license to torture young men and women,” he said.

Writing by Rupam Jain Nair; Editing by Andrew Roche

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