Armed police clashed with villagers near the Indo-Myanmar border in Mizoram’s eastern Champhai district on Thursday after villagers stopped them from taking into custody more than 10 community leaders, including five elected Village Council members.
The State government had sent 100 armed policemen from Aizawl to Selam village near the Lengteng Wildlife Sanctuary on Wednesday, days after irate villagers allegedly set fire to a Forest Department truck when officials attempted to seize timber they said were illegally cut and taken from the sanctuary.
The police team reached the village around 5.30 am Thursday and held talks with community leaders. When that apparently failed, police took the 10-odd villagers into custody and put them in a prison van.
The move led to clashes when villagers protested and police fired tear-gas and tried to beat the villagers back with lathis. Lura, a villager, said five men and several women sustained injuries, among them four women who fell unconscious during the clash.
V Vanlallawma, a church elder and community leader at Selam, said around 7 pm that the police team remained stranded in the village as villagers refused to give way and young men set up a road block with cut timber further ahead.
The government meanwhile sent an additional company (100-odd personnel) of armed police from Aizawl as reinforcements in the evening while 15-odd policemen were dispatched from district headquarters Champhai.
Selam is a village of 227 families and about 1,300 residents. It is located only a few kilometres from the Lengteng Wildlife Sanctuary near where Mizoram borders both Manipur and Myanmar.
Community leader N Lalhmachhuana had said earlier the villagers resent the government’s decision to divert about 45 sq.kms of the village’s land into the sanctuary, and that the attempt by forest officials to seize timber on May 16 led to the burning of the truck.
Officials accuse Lalhmachhuana of being the “ringleader” in last week’s incident. He is among the villagers who have been taken into custody.
The government’s line of action – sending armed police without first attempting to negotiate with the villagers or ordering an inquiry – has attracted strongly-worded criticism including from NGOs and student unions.