VARIOUS: Britain launches an investigation into newly released official papers that suggest the government...
- Title: VARIOUS: Britain launches an investigation into newly released official papers that suggest the government helped India plan an attack against Sikh separatists in the Golden Temple at Amritsar in 1984
- Date: 14th January 2014
- Summary: AMRITSAR, PUNJAB, INDIA (FILE - 1984) (ORIGINALLY 4:3) (REUTERS) FILE OF AREA AROUND THE GOLDEN TEMPLE FOLLOWING AMRITSAR ASSAULT
- Reuters ID: LVA8VV80UU80DIUZOIU6LOYEF2H4
- Location: India
- Country: India
- Duration: 00:00:12
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: International Relations
- Story Text: Britain is to investigate newly released official papers which suggest the government of Margaret Thatcher helped India plan a deadly attack against Sikh separatists in the Golden Temple at Amritsar in 1984.
Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the review after an opposition Labour party lawmaker asked the government to disclose whether the papers were genuine and whether Britain had any role in the attack on Sikhism's holiest shrine.
The raid remains a blot on the record of India's dynastic ruling Congress party, which faces an uphill struggle to be re-elected in national polls due by May.
The party is widely expected to announce Rahul Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi who was prime minister at the time of the attack, as its candidate for the post this week.
The death toll remains disputed, with Indian authorities putting it in the hundreds and Sikh groups in the thousands.
The storming of the temple, aimed at flushing out Sikh separatists who demanded an independent homeland, triggered the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Two of her Sikh bodyguards shot her in revenge for the assault four months later.
Cameron visited Amritsar last year to express regret about another bloody incident there - a British colonial-era massacre of unarmed civilians - and has been trying to court British Sikh voters ahead of a national election in 2015.
Sikh groups said they were shocked and disappointed by the idea that Britain may have been involved in the Golden Temple attack, a bloody episode which angered Sikhs around the world who accused the Indian army of desecration.
"It was of course going against human rights; but this government did nothing against it, to stop it. And still, we are fighting for justice," said one Sikh devotee in London.
Newly released British government papers from the time, publicised by Tom Watson, a Labour party lawmaker, suggest Margaret Thatcher, the then prime minister, responded positively to an Indian government request for advice on planning the 1984 attack and sent an officer from the elite SAS special air service to help draw up a plan.
A spokesman for Cameron's office said on Tuesday (January 14) the British prime minister had ordered an investigation as a result.
"These events led to a tragic loss of life and we understand the very legitimate concerns that these papers will raise," the spokesman said. "The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Secretary to look into this case urgently and establish the facts."
Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, is Britain's top civil servant. Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague had been unaware of the papers prior to their publication, the spokesman added.
"I think the only thing that British Sikhs will expect is full disclosure. They can't cover this up again, and I think the Jeremy Heywood [British Cabinet Secretary] route is probably the least the government should do. I think we probably need a statement in the House [of Commons], we need a proper inquiry and we definitely need all the documents that are around this issue in the public domain," said opposition Labour MP Tom Watson.
Cameron's own spokesman said separately the investigation would be conducted as quickly as possible and would also examine whether the decision to release the official papers after a 30-year secrecy rule had lapsed had been the right one.
"I'm happy that the prime minister has made a quick response to it, but I certainly think an apology from the British government is one that is due," said Dr Parvinder Singh Garcha, a representative from Britain's Sikh community.
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