Indian Army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane on Wednesday said that “appropriate action” will be taken against troops involved in the killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland’s Mon district last month, reported NDTV.

“The regrettable incident that occurred in Oting, Nagaland on December 4 is being thoroughly investigated,” he said, according to ANI. “We remain committed to the security of our countrymen, even during the conduct of operations.”

On the evening of December 4, the Army’s 21 Para Special Force had opened fire at a pick-up van carrying coal miners from Tiru to Oting in Mon district, killing six on board. They had apparently mistaken the group of workers for insurgents. Angered by the killings, a crowd of protestors then set fire to the vehicles belonging to the Army. They opened fire again, killing seven more civilians.

The next day, one more civilian was killed by security forces after locals entered a camp of the Assam Rifles in the district headquarters of Mon.

The Army is conducting an internal inquiry into the killings. On December 29, the team had visited Oting village, where 12 of the 14 deceased men lived, to inspect the ambush site and understand the circumstances that had led to the killings.

The killings have generated backlash against the Army and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, or AFSPA in the northeastern states.

AFSPA gives Army personnel sweeping powers to search, arrest, and to open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”. Chief ministers of Nagaland and other northeastern states as well as several members of civil society and tribal bodies have been demanding that the law be withdrawn.

However, the Act was extended in Nagaland for six months in December.

‘War is always an instrument of last resort’

On Wednesday, the Army chief also said that while the situation along the country’s northern borders was under control, it was difficult to predict if it could escalate.

“What we have done so far, we are in a position to meet whatever is thrown at us in the future,” Naravane said. “War or conflict is always an instrument of last resort. But if resorted to, we will come out victorious.”

India and China have been locked in a standoff at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. The border tensions began in May 2020, when Chinese troops clashed with the Indian Army at several points along the Line of Actual Control. The tensions escalated further after a violent face-off on June 15, 2020.

Since then, the two countries have held several rounds of military and diplomatic talks to resolve the matter.

The Army chief said that there has been an increase in the concentration of terrorists in various launch pads and there have been repeated attempts of infiltration across the Line of Control.

“This once exposes the nefarious designs of our western neighbour,” he said, in an apparent reference to Pakistan.