Five police officers from Assam were killed on Monday after violence erupted along the state’s border with Mizoram, the Assam government said, reported The Indian Express. Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had earlier said that six officials had been killed in the clashes, but his administration later issued a clarification about the deaths.

The boundary between the two states is disputed at several points. Assam and Mizoram have often sparred over it, sometimes violently. Several rounds of dialogue at various levels since 1994 have failed to resolve the disagreement.

In 1972, Mizoram was carved out of Assam and made into a separate Union Territory. In 1987, it became a full-fledged state. The three South Assam districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj share a 164.6-km-long border with Mizoram’s Kolasib, Mamit and Aizawl districts.

Tensions escalated along the Assam-Mizoram border on Monday after reports of firing and clashes between the police of both states emerged. Sarma and Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga squabbled on Twitter and sought Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s assistance to resolve the matter.

Shah, however, asked both the chief ministers to find a solution to the border dispute, The Times of India reported. On Saturday, the home minister had held a meeting in Shillong to resolve the row.

Assam and Mizo authorities blame each other

The five officers of the Assam Police who were killed were identified as sub-inspector Swapan Roy and constables Liton Suklabaidya, MH Barbhuyia, N Hussain and S Barbhuiya.

While no casualties were suffered by Mizoram on Monday, the state government in a statement claimed that around 200 Assam Police personnel crossed a duty post manned by the Central Reserve Police Force and state police in Vairengte town of Mizoram’s Kolasib district.

“The Assam Police also damaged several vehicles that were travelling along the National Highway between Vairengte [in Mizoram] and Lailapur [in Assam],” the statement alleged.

After this, the government said that residents of Vairengte town in Kolasib district went to the area where they were assaulted by the Assam Police. In the incident, several civilians were injured, the Mizoram government said.

“The confrontation continued and a volley of tear gas canisters and grenades were launched at Mizoram Police followed by firing from Assam side at around 4.50 pm,” the government said.

Describing the developments as unfortunate, the Mizoram blamed the Assam Police and condemned its “unjustified act of intrusion and aggression”.

Meanwhile, Deputy Inspector of Police in Assam’s Silchar range, Devojyoti Mukherjee, told that a contingent of senior police and forest officials from Assam set out on Monday morning to remove a Mizoram police post. Assam authorities said the post was situated in the state’s Cachar district.

“They had made encroachments in our land and forests in 2020,” Mukherjee said. “They had started cutting trees in the forest to make roads and build camps.”

This claim has been contested by Mizo authorities, who said that the post was in the state’s Kolasib district and was manned by 20 personnel of the Mizoram India Reserve Battalion, a special unit of the state police.

Residents of the border town of Vairengte reportedly joined the Mizoram police to the site of conflict. But the Assam police allegedly fired tear gas and batoncharged the civilians, causing injuries to many, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana said, reported The Economic Times.

Kolasib Police chief K Vanlalfaka Ralte said that the Assamese contingent fired the first shot when he was negotiating with Assam’s deputy inspector general of police. Meanwhile, the Assam police alleged “unprovoked, indiscriminate firing” from the Mizo side.

The latest violence broke out after at least eight unoccupied huts were burnt down by unidentified persons on Sunday night near the Aitlang stream in Kolasib district, Mizoram Deputy Inspector-General of Police (Northern Range) Lalbiakthanga Khiangte said, according to East Mojo.

On Monday, the Mizoram chief minister first tweeted a video in which the police and residents could be seen armed with lathis. Zoramthanga did not mention the location where the video was shot.

But the chief minister tagged the Cachar Police and the district deputy commissioner in his tweet, along with Sarma, the home minister and the prime minister’s office. “Shri Amit Shah ji….kindly look into the matter,” Zoramthanga wrote. “This needs to be stopped right now.”

About an hour later, Sarma tweeted that Kolasib’s superintendent of police had asked the Assam Police to withdraw from their post. Sarma added that the Assam Police had also been told that the residents of Mizoram “won’t listen nor stop violence” until the former retreated.

“How can we run [the] government in such circumstances?” Sarma asked, seeking the assistance of Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to resolve the matter.

Zoramthanga responded to Sarma’s tweet, claiming that two companies of the Assam Police, along with civilians, had attacked Mizoram citizens at Vairengte with sticks and tear gas grenades.

Meanwhile, posting another video, the Mizoram chief minister claimed that a couple travelling through Cachar were manhandled and ransacked by goons. “How are you going to justify these violent acts?” he asked, tagging the district police and the Assam director general of police.

At the meeting with Shah on July 24, Zoramthanga had said that areas claimed by Assam as its own were used by Mizoram citizens for more than 100 years.

He also alleged that Assam started claiming these areas as its own recently due to population pressure, apparently caused by a large scale influx of “migrants” from outside the Barak Valley, which consists of the three districts that share the boundary with Mizoram.

Zoramthanga also suggested maintaining the status-quo as of May 10, as discussed with the Assam chief minister in their telephonic discussion on June 29, reported ANI.

Earlier on July 9, a chief secretary-level meeting of both states was held in Delhi on the dispute but it remained inconclusive.

Past flare-ups

Tensions between the two states escalated after violent clashes had erupted on October 17 between the residents of the two states. The tensions also led to cutting off supply of resources to Mizoram as Assam residents blocked highways connecting the two states from October 18. Mizo groups reportedly responded by organising their own blockade, preventing truckers from going to Assam.

The Assam government and the state’s border residents said the matter of contention was the deployment of the Mizo police in what Assam claims to be its land.

The Centre then deployed “neutral forces” at the advanced posts to act as a buffer between the police forces of the two states – the Border Security Force on the Mizoram side, and the Sashastra Seema Bal on the Assam side.

Violent clashes had broken out in October in another disputed area at the Cachar-Kolasib section of the border. The dispute also assumed an ethnic tinge as Mizo civil society groups claimed that those behind the violence from Assam were “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh trying to take over Mizo land.

Tensions stirred again on November 3, after a 45-year old man from Assam’s Cachar district died in the custody of the Mizoram Police. Two days later, the Centre deployed additional forces for Assam to maintain peace along the state’s borders with Mizoram.

More recently, on July 10, several crops and betel nut trees owned by a Mizoram farmer were allegedly damaged during an “eviction drive” by the Assam police near Phainuam village.

On the same day, unidentified persons had allegedly lobbed a grenade at an Assam government team visiting the border areas. However, the Mizoram government claimed an earth mover’s tyre had burst.

The Mizoram government had responded by deploying forces in what Assam claims is its territory. The Mizos, for their part, insisted that they were only “defending their land”.

On June 30, Mizoram had accused Assam of encroaching upon its land in the Kolasib district.

(Corrections and clarifications: This article has been updated after the Assam government clarified that five state police officers were killed in the conflict. An earlier version had quoted a tweet by the chief minister to say that six officials had been killed.)