UK & World News

  • 4 February 2014, 20:08

Hague Plays Down SAS Role In Amritsar Massacre

William Hague has sought to play down the SAS role in the 1984 massacre at India's holiest Sikh temple that left thousands dead.

The Foreign Secretary admitted an SAS officer had given advice to the Indian authorities about how to deal with Sikh dissidents at the Golden Temple in Amritsar ahead of an army raid in which up to 3,000 were killed.

However, he said that a Government investigation into the level of British involvement had found that the British military guidance had only "limited impact" and was not acted on.

Disclosing the findings of the report to the House of Commons, Mr Hague said that theSASmajor had travelled to India in 1984 to advise the authorities.

He recommended that the Indian army should consider a surprise helicopter attack to remove the Sikh insurgents from the landmark.

However, Mr Hague said, the helicopter advice was not taken up in the Indian army's Blue Star operation in June that year and the Indian plan had "changed significantly" during the intervening months.

Mr Hague told the House of Commons: "... the nature of the UK's assistance was purely advisory, limited and and provided to the Indian government at an early stage; that it had limited impact on the tragic events that unfolded at the temple three months later; that there was no link between the provision of this advice and defence sales and there is no record of the (British) government receiving advance notice of the operation."

He said: "This loss of life was an utter tragedy. Understandably members of the Sikh community around the world still feel the pain and suffering caused by these events."

Sikh groups reacted to the findings with anger saying it was clear that the British government had been complicit in the massacre and called for a judge-led inquiry into the level of UK involvement.

Dabinderjit Singh, of the Sikh Federation UK, told Sky News: "It was clear (when the documents were released in January) that the UK Government was complicit in what happened 30 years ago. We are actually very disappointed with the announcement today."

He said that there had been reports in India that Indian forces had travelled to Hereford to train with the SAS in 1984 ahead of the raid and that those forces had then taken part in the raid that ended with the killings.

The investigation was carried out by the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, who looked at 200 files and 23,000 documents but was unable to look at the Ministry of Defence papers on the advice given because they had been destroyed in 2009.

The destruction of these papers has been at the centre of concerns by the Sikh community about the scope of the investigation.

However, Mr Hague said that some of the documents in the destroyed file were contained in other files and that Sir Jeremy had been able to establish a consistent picture of what had happened.

Documents released last monthunder the 30-year rule were the first to disclose that an SASofficer had helped the Indian government to come up with a plan to remove the insurgents from the Golden Temple.

The secret papers also indicated that then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher knew the SAS was advising the Indian government.

The release of the documents prompted David Cameron to order a Government investigation into British involvement in the Indian army's Blue Star operation.

The massacre at Amritsar led to the revenge assassination of Indira Gandhi in October the same year.

Sikh extremist groups continue to seek retribution for the massacre and in December four people were jailed for slashing the throat of a 78-year-old Lieutenant General during a visit to London.

Lt Gen Kuldeep Singh Brar, who was involved in the Golden Temple operation, survived the attack and a number of assassination attempts.

Mr Cameron has ordered a review of how official papers are released following the outcome of the investigation.

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