Guwahati, India – A protester has been killed in Mon district of Nagaland state after Indian security forces fired at people demonstrating against the killing of 13 civilians a day earlier in the northeastern state.
Fresh violence erupted on Sunday after a big crowd of people marched to a security forces camp in Mon town and started damaging and burning buildings, a state government official said.
The killings of the civilians allegedly by security forces in what the officials described a “botched-up” operation has caused widespread outrage in Nagaland, which has witnessed decades of armed rebellion against Indian rule. The region has been relatively quiet in recent years, as armed groups started negotiations with the Indian government.
“The people are very angry,” said Honang Konyak, the vice president of the Konyak Union, the apex body of the Konyak Tribe which dominates Mon district located on the Indo-Myanmar border.
“The security forces, who were supposed to be guardians, have killed innocents,” he said.
They were happily shooting at us
At least six people were killed after security forces fired at a truck carrying coal-mine workers, who were mistaken for “militants”. Seven more civilians were killed after local residents clashed with the security forces later on Saturday evening.
Nagaland government rushed top police and government officials and clamped prohibitory orders in Mon town. Earlier, it banned mobile internet and SMS services in the entire district citing “apprehension of grave law and order problems”.
The ban was lifted on Sunday evening, but Sandeep M Tamgadge, the additional director general of police in Nagaland, confirmed that the situation remained tense.
A special investigations team comprising of five police officials has been formed under Tamgadge’s supervision. “It has been tasked to investigate the case within one month,” said.
The Spear Corps of the Indian Army said it regretted the incident and its aftermath.
“The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law,” the statement said.
At least one soldier was killed in the incident, the statement from the Spear Corps said. Another 11 civilians were injured in the incident, Indian authorities said.
“Four of the injured personnel were evacuated to Dimapur (the capital of Nagaland). Five of them are at the civil hospital in Mon while two are being treated at Dibrugarh (in neighbouring Assam),” said Abhijeet Sinha, the home secretary of Nagaland.
At @AJEnglish today,our clear sharing were:(1)We grieve with people of #Mon #Nagaland at this time(2)This is NOT first time such a massacre happened in NE & this must END 🛑✋🏽once & for all (3) Condolences are not enough,strongly call upon Govt of India to #RepealAFSPA pic.twitter.com/gYMhNj953r
— Binalakshmi Nepram (@BinaNepram) December 5, 2021
According to local accounts, the incident happened on Saturday evening when security forces allegedly opened fire on a pick-up truck carrying workers returning to Oting from the coal mines in lower Tiru, less than 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) away.
Mon district falls on the route frequented by various rebel groups operating in the area, as per police officials.
“Based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents, a specific operation was planned in the area of Tiru,” Spear Corps said.
“It’s a complete failure of intelligence,” Honang Konyak, the vice president of the Konyak Union, said.
According to a senior Nagaland government official who spoke on condition of anonymity the state officials were not aware of the inputs.
“We had no information about their (security forces’) movement,” the official said. “We don’t know yet how they mistook the daily wagers to be insurgents.”
‘They opened fire at us’
Kheatwang Konyak, a resident from Oting said people heard gunshots. “A couple of hours later, when the boys did not come back home, we set out to look for them,” he told Al Jazeera.
A short distance away from the village, the residents claim they found the dead bodies in a pick-up truck belonging to the security forces. “The army personnel were about to take them away,” Kheatwang Konyak alleged.
As emotions ran high, a crowd of people torched three vehicles. Locals allege the security forces personnel opened fire again amid the clashes.
— ইন্দ্রজিৎ | INDRAJIT (@iindrojit) December 5, 2021
“I had a party flag on my vehicle even then they opened fire at us,” said Nyawang Konyak, the district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is part of the governing alliance in Nagaland. Nyawang told Al Jazeera he ran to save his life but three others in his vehicle were shot at.
“My driver and my nephew were shot in the leg,” he claimed.
“They were happily shooting at us,” Nyawang alleged, adding another person in his vehicle succumbed to injuries. “God saved my life.”
Al Jazeera could not independently verify these claims, which are yet to be corroborated by Indian officials.
‘Failure of intelligence’
Reports in the Indian media citing sources in the security forces said they were anticipating the movement of the Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), a proscribed outfit that operates from neighbouring Myanmar.
Other factions of the NSCN are currently in talks with the government for a solution to the Naga issue which has fuelled the rebellion in the region for decades.
The Naga groups have been demanding sovereignty and more autonomy. While most groups seemed to be pushing for an early solution, a faction of the NSCN, has stuck to its demand of shared sovereignty with a separate flag and constitution. This faction signed a ceasefire agreement in 1997.
Politicians in Nagaland fear that the attack could hamper the continuing peace talks between the Naga armed groups and the government.
“At a time when the Indo-Naga issue is nearing a conclusion, such a random and dastardly act by the security forces is unimaginable and unfathomable,” said a statement by the governing Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party.
The party demanded that the state government take up the issue of the repealing of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, a law that rights groups have said grants impunity to security forces operating in the area.
In 2017, the Supreme Court ordered an investigation into 1,528 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings between 2000 and 2012 by the security forces and police in neighbouring Manipur, another state under AFSPA.
Temjen Imna Along, a minister in the state government and chief of the Nagaland Unit of the BJP lashed out at the security forces even as he said the incident was “tantamount to war crimes during peacetime and amounts to summary execution as well as genocide”.
In a statement shared on his Facebook page Along said, since the peace process is at a threshold of settlement, “it is time to exercise extreme caution and patience.”
Meanwhile, candlelight vigils were held at multiple places around the state. The incident has affected the celebrations at the Hornbill Festival, an annual event that showcases Naga culture as several tribes announced that they were suspending their participation in the aftermath of the deadly incident.