India has held funeral rites for 15 civilians killed by its security forces in the northeastern state of Nagaland, amid intense security and sporadic internet outages aimed at damping fresh unrest in the remote region.
Security and government officials say 14 members of the region’s predominant Konyak tribe and one security trooper were killed on Saturday after forces in the border state “mistook” a group of labourers for armed fighters and opened fire.
Another member of the tribe was killed during protests on Sunday over the military action, prompting the government to launch an inquiry, while police and officials ramped up patrols ahead of the last rites.
Hundreds of mourners laid wreaths on the coffins of the dead, lined up on a public playground, as the state’s Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio led a mass funeral service in the district of Mon, the site of the incident.
“The killing of innocent civilians is terrorism. We are Indians, not terrorists,” read a placard nearby.
Indian Home Minister Amit Shah is set to make a statement in Parliament on Monday about security in Nagaland, where hundreds of security forces with automatic weapons continue to patrol the restive Mon district.
The Indian army has expressed “deep regret” over the intelligence lapse but state residents have demanded a shutdown of its operations, with camps being moved out of civilian areas.
Police registered a complaint against a paramilitary unit over the incident, saying there had been no police guide nor a request for one from security forces.
“Hence it is obvious that the intention of security forces is to murder and injure civilians,” they said in the complaint, reviewed by Reuters news agency.
Demands to repeal AFSPA
Anger over the incident is rising in Nagaland, where people have frequently accused security forces of wrongly targeting innocent locals in counterinsurgency operations against rebel groups under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
Besides sweeping powers of search and arrest, the law, enforced in parts of four of the seven northeastern states as well as Indian-administered Kashmir, allows Indian forces to open fire to maintain public order in areas designated as “disturbed areas”.
Nagaland is covered by the law as India says rebel groups operate from thick jungles of an unfenced region that also spans the neighbouring states of Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, which border Myanmar.
Nagaland and the Naga people have always opposed #AFSPA. It should be repealed.
— Neiphiu Rio (@Neiphiu_Rio) December 6, 2021
However, the state’s chief minister called the law draconian and urged its removal.
“Today, the whole world is criticising AFSPA and now the Nagaland government wants AFSPA to be withdrawn,” Neiphiu Rio said.
In a statement shared with Al Jazeera on Monday, the Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) called for an “immediate arrest” of the accused security personnel behind the killings.
“Insurgents travelling in a pick-up truck is unheard of and it is nothing but plain massacre of the civilians. Since the FIR (police report) names the accused for the mass murder of the civilians, the law must take its own course and the accused ought to be handed over to the police for the offence of murder,” it said.
“Justice must be established through a fast-track trial.”