A day after 13 civilians were killed in Nagaland’s Mon district as security forces opened fire on a group of labourers mistaking them for insurgents, fresh violence erupted on Sunday.
One person was killed and another injured on Sunday afternoon, after locals entered a camp of the Assam Rifles to protest against Saturday’s killings, the state’s Principal Secretary (home) Abhijit Sinha told Scroll.in.
The personnel of Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force that operates under the Indian Army, fired on the protestors, who allegedly tried to demolish some of the structures in the camp, Sinha added.
Soldiers had ambushed a vehicle on Saturday evening, killing six labourers returning to their village from a coal mine in the Tiru area.
“They [the labourers] were ambushed by one para unit of Army at Oting,” Sinha told Scroll.in. “The Army had input that some cadres of underground groups were moving there. Unfortunately they ended up firing and ambushing the vehicle in which the daily wage labourers were returning to their village.”
After the ambush, local residents set vehicles of the security forces on fire. As the soldiers fled, they shot dead more civilians, alleged Nyawang Konyak, the president of the Mon district unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The soldiers even fired at him, Konyak said, despite his vehicle’s bonnet bearing the BJP flag. “They should have at least seen that, but instead they punctured my car’s tyres,” he said. “How will the world run if the Hindustani Army kills civilians like this?”
Tense situation in Mon district
The situation continued to be tense in Mon district on Sunday.
Prohibitory orders under Section 144 (barring the assembly of four or more persons) of the Code of Criminal Procedure was issued by the Mon district magistrate. The state home secretary told Scroll.in that the restrictions amounted to a curfew.
Purported videos on social media showed local residents attacking a camp of the Assam Rifles in Mon town. In other videos, smoke is seen bellowing from what appeared to be the security camp. The sound of bullets being fired could also be heard in the videos.
The 3 Corps of the Indian Army issued a statement on Sunday morning that an operation in Tiru area of Mon district had been planned, based on “credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents”.
“The incident and its aftermath is deeply regretted,” it added. “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.”
One soldier also died in the operation and the security forces have suffered severe injuries, the Army said. The Indian Army has ordered a Court of Inquiry into the killings.
Mobile internet and messaging services in the area have been suspended to stop the spread of rumours, fake news, and “inflammatory photos and videos”, the Nagaland government said in an order.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said a high-level special investigation team will conduct an inquiry into the killings.
“The unfortunate incident leading to killing of civilians at Oting, Mon is highly condemnable,” he said in a tweet. “Condolences to the bereaved families. Appeal for peace from all sections.”
Deputy Chief Minister Yanthungo Patton promised “justice will be served”.
‘Amounts to genocide’: BJP’s Nagaland unit
The state unit of Bharatiya Janata Party condemned the firing and said it was time to exercise caution and patience to maintain peace in the region.
In a statement, the party’s state unit chief Temjen Imna Along, who is also the minister of tribal affairs, pointed out that unarmed civilians were killed in the incident.
“It is therefore tantamount to war crimes during peace time and amounts to summary execution as well as genocide,” he said. “This cannot be tolerated by anyone at any cost and simply putting the blame on intelligence failure is the lamest excuse.”
Along said that the Army personnel responsible for killing should be brought to justice and made to answer how they could not understand the labourers were unarmed and on what basis did the commanding office give the firing order.
He urged the Union and the state government to provide ex-gratia to the families of the deceased and also take further compensatory measures.
“The Naga people stand united as a whole, with our Konyak brothers and sisters,” the BJP state unit chief said. “We mourn with you. We feel the pain and anguish equally.”
High-level SIT to probe firing: Amit Shah
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also expressed grief about the deaths and offered his condolences to the families of the deceased.
“A high-level SIT [Special Investigation Team] constituted by the state government will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families,” he said in a tweet.
To protest the killings, the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation announced the withdrawal of six tribes it represents from the state’s annual Hornbill Festival being held near capital Kohima.
“How can we dance at the festival when our people are getting killed?” a leader of Konyak tribe asked, according to The New Indian Express.
The festival has now been reportedly called off, according to India Today.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi sought a response from the government about the deaths. “This is heart wrenching,” he wrote on Twitter. “What exactly is the home ministry doing when neither civilians nor security personnel are safe in our own land?”