Admitting that the killing of a youth in Assam last week "was unfortunate", Indian Army officials in Guwahati said on Thursday they have ordered a probe to punish guilty officials involved in the fake encounter.
"The killing of Budheswar Moran was unfortunate," Major General NC Marwah, general-officer-commanding (GOC) of the second Mountain Division, told reporters.
"I assure you that the inquiry would be impartial and those found guilty will be punished," he added.
The killing of 24-year-old Moran in an alleged encounter with soldiers of the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles over the weekend in eastern Assam's Tinsukia district has led to protests with hundreds of people blocking highways since Monday near Doomdooma, 515 km east of Guwahati.
The army had claimed Moran was a "hardcore militant" of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). But locals and family members say that Moran was innocent and that he had no links with any rebel group.
The army on Wednesday announced a court of inquiry. The Assam government also ordered an independent probe to investigate the death following the widespread protests.
"The very fact that the GOC admitted to the fake killing vindicates our stand that such state-sponsored terrorism is rampant in Assam in the name of countering militancy," said Lachit Bordoloi, who heads the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samity (MASS), a leading rights group in Assam.
Moran's family members have refused to accept his body, which is still lying at a morgue in Tinsukia.
The Indian army, which is engaged in anti-insurgency operations in Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, is under fire over frequent allegations of rights violations, torture of innocent civilians and fake encounters while conducting raids.
Earlier this week the army tendered an apology to the Arunachal Pradesh government after over alleged atrocities committed on locals by the army while conducting raids on ULFA bases. Arunachal Rural Development Minister Chowna Mein said villagers were tortured by the army in Lohit district after an explosion triggered by the ULFA killed two soldiers a fortnight ago.
In July last year, the army punished Major Nishant Sharma and Rifleman Sudip Gurung after finding the duo guilty of killing a villager in custody. The military court ruling came after the state government lodged a protest with the army saying the villager, Ajit Mahanta, was shot dead after being picked up by the army on suspicion of having links with the ULFA.
Army authorities were forced to apologise and order a court of inquiry in December after Nipul Saikia, a farmer, was picked up by soldiers and seriously injured while in custody.