An Army officer who led an operation in Nagaland’s Mon district on December 4 allegedly knew for at least 50 minutes that the ambush his team laid was on the wrong route but suppressed this information, The Wire reported on Thursday, citing findings of the Special investigation Team looking into the matter.
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 village in Mon district, killing six on board. The Army had claimed that its personnel had mistaken the group of workers for insurgents. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had also told Parliament that the killings were a case of mistaken identity.
After the initial incident of firing, a crowd of protestors had set fire to vehicles belonging to the Army. The soldiers opened fire again, killing seven more civilians.
The Nagaland Police’s Special Investigation Team, in its chargesheet, has recorded the statement of an unidentified “human source” who had relayed information about the movement of insurgents to an Army sepoy, according to The Wire report.
The source is said to have conveyed to the sepoy that the militants planned to move towards the Wapnyu area, which was at least 10 kilometres away from the site where the Army’s ambush had been planned.
According to the chargesheet, the information had been communicated to the sepoy at 3.30 pm on December 4, and the sepoy immediately told about it to his team commander – an officer holding the rank of a Major.
The Special Investigation Team further alleged that the team commander directed a technical support team to track a guide who was to lead the militants through his phone location. The technical support team also confirmed that the guide was moving towards the Wapnyu area. At 3.50 pm, the team commander reportedly sent a message informing some of his teammates about the guide on WhatsApp, but did not mention that he was moving towards Wapnyu, according to The Wire.
The first incident of firing is said to have taken place at 4.26 pm.
The chargesheet also stated that Thonwang, a student, had video recorded the firing, and the recording went on for 48 seconds. This was contrary to the Army’s claim that the firing went on for less than five seconds.
On June 11, the Nagaland Police had said that as per its investigation, the Army did not follow the Standard Operating Procedure and the rules of engagement for such an operation. Thirty members of the operations team of 21 Para Special Force, including one Army officer, have been named by the police in its chargesheet in the case.
Allow prosecution of accused personnel, NGO urges Centre
Civil rights organisation People’s Union for Democratic Rights on Friday demanded that the findings of the Special Investigation Team should be made public, and that the Union government and the Army should give sanction to prosecute the personnel who were allegedly involved in the killings on December 4.
The organisation noted that the Special Investigation Team has been waiting for sanction from the Department of Military Affairs since April. “More importantly, the Nagaland Chief Minister said in early March, that the SIT findings would be made public only after the Centre would give permission to prosecute,” it said.
The People’s Union for Democratic Rights described allegations that the team commander was aware for at least 50 minutes about the ambush on the wrong route as “damning”.