The Assam and Nagaland governments on Saturday agreed to withdraw their armed police forces from the disputed areas in the Dessoi Valley reserve forest area within 24 hours.
The decision was taken during a meeting between Assam Chief Secretary Jishnu Barua and his Nagaland counterpart J Alam, according to Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma. Both sides agreed to de-escalate tension arising due to a standoff in the Ao Senden and Vikuto villages in Nagaland, and Jankhona Nala/ Nagajankha and Compartment No 12 in Assam.
The border dispute between the two sides dates back to December 1, 1963, when Nagaland was officially declared a state, after a 16-point agreement between then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the leaders of the Naga People’s Convention was signed in 1960.
The government of India pledged to return all Naga territories that had been annexed by Britain and made part of Assam. This transfer did not take place, since Nagaland refused to cooperate in a survey of the border suggested by a commission, which had been created in 1972 to look into the matter. In all, about 66,000 hectares of land is in dispute between the states.
Assam and Nagaland share a 434-km-long border. The Assam-Nagaland interstate border area has been divided, for administrative convenience, into six sectors – A, B, C, D, E and F – spread over Sivasagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts. All of these are presently in Assam.
The Nagas say they should be granted sectors A, B, C and D, a total area of 12,883 square kilometers. The Nagas claim this region historically belongs to their tribes, and was promised to them in the 16-point agreement.
Meanwhile, the Assam government maintains that these six sectors have been under the state’s administrative care for more than a century, and no contradictory direction has been given to them by the central government since.
The land dispute has resulted in violent clashes for decades. Two major incidents in 1979 and 1985 resulted in over 100 fatalities.
The latest incident was reported in May, when Bharatiya Janata Party leader Rupjyoti Kurmi, who was then a Congress MLA, his security officers and others came under gunfire in the Dessoi Valley area from the Nagaland side, reported NDTV. Some journalists were also injured in the incident.
During Saturday’s meeting, it was also decided that Nagaland and Assam would monitor the region by surveillance using unmanned aerial vehicles and satellite imagery to maintain the status quo. The police superintendents in Nagaland’s Mokokchung and Assam’s Jorhat areas are expected to ensure the orderly withdrawal of forces.
In a tweet, Sarma described the decision as a “historic step” in the relations between the two states. “My gratitude to HCM [Chief Minister] Sri Neiphiu Rio for working with Assam in restoring peace on the border,” he tweeted. “Assam is committed to ensuring peace along all its borders & strives for social & economic prosperity of [the] Northeast region.”
Nagaland Deputy Chief Minister Y Patton, who was also present in the meeting along with Assam Education Minister Ranoj Pegu, told reporters that the chief ministers of both states had held discussions on the border dispute with Union Home Minister Amit Shah on July 24 and July 25 in Shillong, reported PTI. He said that it was agreed in principle then to withdraw the forces.
Patton said that the discussions during Saturday’s meeting were held only for the Dessoi Valley region but the disputes related to other areas will be taken up subsequently. He added that the Assam government has agreed not to stop or check commuters from Nagaland entering the neighbouring state.
The announcement came amid Assam’s standoff with Mizoram in another border dispute.
Violence had erupted between the two states on Monday in which five Assam Police officers had died. While no casualties were suffered by Mizoram, the state government had claimed that around 200 Assam Police personnel had crossed a duty post manned by the Central Reserve Police Force and state police in Vairengte town of Mizoram’s Kolasib district.