Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday told Parliament that the Centre regrets the killing of 14 civilians by security forces in Nagaland’s Mon district. Shah read out statement in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha as Opposition MPs shouted slogans and demanded that the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act be repealed.

Addressing the Lok Sabha, the home minister said all agencies have been asked to ensure that such civilian casualties do not occur while acting against insurgents in the future.

“Army had received information on the movement of extremists in Oting [village],” Shah said. “Based on that, 21 Para Commando laid an ambush in suspected area. A vehicle reached there, it was signalled to stop but it tried to flee. On suspicion of the vehicle carrying extremists, it was fired upon. Six of the eight people in the vehicle died.”

A Special Investigation Team has been formed to look into the killings and asked to submit its report within one month, the home minister added. He said the local administration was taking measures to maintain law and order as the situation in Nagaland remained tense.

Opposition MPs shouted slogans calling for a discussion on the killings. Members of many parties including the Congress, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samajwadi Party, the Nationalist Congress Party walked out of the House after Shah’s statement in Lok Sabha.

Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the home minister’s statement “holds no water”. “It cannot relate to disturbing news emanating from Nagaland,” he told reporters, according to ANI. “We have been asking why fire was opened at innocent civilians and why a soldier had to lose his life?”

What happened in Nagaland?

On Saturday evening, the security forces mistakenly opened fire at a pick-up van carrying coal miners from the Tiru area to their village Oting in Mon district, killing six on board. They mistook the group of workers for insurgents.

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. In the ensuing chaos, seven more civilians and one soldier died.

The violence spilled over into Sunday afternoon after locals entered a camp of the Assam Rifles to protest against Saturday’s killing. At least one more person was killed after security forces fired back at protestors.

FIR filed against Army unit

On Sunday, the state police filed an first information report against the 21 Para Special Force, alleging that the Indian Army unit had “blankly opened fire” on civilians. It alleged that the “intention” of security forces was to “murder and injure civilians”.

The Nagaland government also formed a Special Investigation Team to look into the killing of 14 civilians.

Naga groups, politicians condemn killing

Several Naga armed groups, civil society bodies and politicians, including the chief of Nagaland unit of Bharatiya Janata Party, have condemned the killings.

In a statement, the BJP’s state unit chief Temjen Imna Along, who is also the minister of tribal affairs, called the Army’s killing a “war crime” and “genocide”.

The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah faction) – the biggest Naga armed group involved in peace talks with the government – described Saturday as a “black day” and said the “absurdity and insanity” of the armed forces have been exposed.

The NSCN (IM) went on to describe the security forces as “trigger happy”, adding that this was not the first time they had acted with impunity under the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, which the group said is used against the Naga political movement.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act gives the military sweeping powers to search and arrest, and to open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”, and to do so with a degree of immunity from prosecution.

The Act was extended in Nagaland for six more months in June.