The Army’s Court of Inquiry (CoI) on Thursday night declared the matter of the death of five Kashmiri civilians, allegedly killed in a fake encounter by Rashtriya Rifles in March 2000, as “closed”.

The CBI had earlier established charges of abduction and murder against five Army officials and filed the chargesheet in a designated court in Srinagar in 2006, seeking trial for “exemplary punishment” of the accused.

CBI held five officials of Rashtriya Rifles 7th Battalion guilty of “cold-blooded murder” of five innocent civilians of Anantnag.

It had filed the chargesheet against Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brajendra Pratap Singh, Major Sourabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan for staging the fake encounter and labelling the five abducted civilians as foreign terrorists involved in the massacre of 35 members of the Sikh community at Chittisinghpora on March 20, 2000.

However, after years of legal battle, in which the CBI pressed for the trial and the Army claimed immunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, claiming that the prosecution could not proceed in absence of sanction from the Centre. The Supreme Court in 2012 granted the Army the option of conducting the proceedings either through a civil court or its own Court of Inquiry. The Army opted for the latter.

The Army’s CoI recorded the statements of the witnesses in Kashmir as none of the civilian witnesses agreed to travel to Nagrota, the headquarters of 16 Corps in Jammu, for this purpose. In a statement late on Thursday night, the Army declared the matter as closed “because the evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused.”

“The evidence recorded could not establish a prime facie case against any of the accused persons but clearly established that it was a joint operation by the police and the Army, based on specific intelligence. The case has since been closed by the Army authorities and intimation given to Court of Judicial Magistrate, Srinagar,” an Army spokesman said. He said “a comprehensive and exhaustive effort was undertaken to record evidence against all the accused persons after it took up the case on apex court directions.”

“Over 50 witnesses have been examined, including a large number of civilian witnesses, state government and police officials. Forensic, documentary and other relevant evidence has also been taken on record,” he said. “For the convenience of the next of kin of the deceased persons and other civilian witnesses, the team recording the evidence moved to Kashmir Valley to record their statements. Considerable help was provided by the local civil administration”.