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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Assam and Mizoram hold talks: ‘Neutral force’, no new deployment by states

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma officially withdrew the travel advisory issued by the state on July 29 that asked people not to travel to Mizoram due to "threat to personal safety".

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
Updated: August 6, 2021 9:28:57 am
At the Lailapur police outpost on the Assam-Mizoram border. (Express photo: Tora Agarwala)

Following the first government-level talks between Assam and Mizoram since the July 26 border incident in which six Assam Police personnel were killed in firing and clashes, representatives of the two states resolved Thursday to not have any “fresh deployment” in the disputed areas.

“Both the state governments agree to maintain peace in the inter-state border areas and welcomed the deployment of (a) neutral force by the Government of India in this regard,” said a joint statement released after the representatives held a 90-minute meeting in Aizawl Thursday morning.

The statement added a condolence message from the Mizoram government on the July 26 deaths as well as wishes for speedy recovery of those injured.

Late in the evening, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma officially withdrew the travel advisory issued by the state on July 29 that asked people not to travel to Mizoram due to “threat to personal safety”. In a tweet, tagging the handles of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Mizoram CM Zoramthanga, Sarma said this was “pursuant to signing of Joint Statement between Assam and Mizoram… interalia to maintain peace and harmony”.

Assam was represented at the talks by Border Protection and Development Minister Atul Bora, Urban Development Minister Ashok Singhal, and Commissioner and Secretary, Border Protection and Development, G D Tripathi. The Mizoram delegation was led by Home Minister Lalchamliana, and included Revenue Minister Lalruatkima, Home Secretary Vanlalngaihsaka.

The two sides agreed to “find lasting solutions to the disputes through discussions” and “take necessary measures to promote, preserve and maintain peace and harmony amongst people living in Assam and Mizoram”.

Welcoming the deployment of a neutral force by the Centre, the joint statement said, “For this purpose, both the States shall not send their respective Forest and Police forces for patrolling, domination, enforcement or for fresh deployment to any of the areas where confrontation and conflict (have) taken place between the police forces of the two states during recent times. This would include all such areas along the Assam-Mizoram border in the districts of Karimganj, Hailakandi and Cachar, Assam; and Mamit and Kolasib districts, Mizoram.”

The two states share a 165-km-long border that runs along these districts.

However, the release did not mention if state police forces at the contested Lailapur-Vairengte point on the Cachar-Kolasib border, where the clashes happened July 26, would be withdrawn. Currently, forces from both sides are present in the area, with the CRPF acting as the buffer.

While Kolasib SP Vanlalfaka Ralte told The Indian Express that the situation at the border was “tense but under control”, Cachar SP Ramandeep Kaur said the situation “had not changed” during the course of the week. They were tightlipped on the exact force strength at the border, citing “security concerns”, though Ralte said the talks could lead to changes. Kaur said word about Thursday’s talks was yet to reach them.

At the meeting, an assurance was reportedly also made by the Assam side to look into an unofficial blockade on vehicular movement from Lailapur into Vairengte, leading to shortages in Mizoram. Earlier in the week, Mizoram had asked the Centre to intervene. Kaur denied there was any blockade and said while several vehicles were going across, others had on their own decided not to enter Mizoram fearing for their safety.

Assam minister Singhal, who was part of the border talks, said the meeting was extremely “hopeful” and had seen “a lot of confidence-building measures by both the governments”. “Let’s not just go by the official words on the paper… What is important is that there was a feeling of brotherhood. We may be divided by a boundary, but emotionally, we are connected,” he said.

Lalchamliana welcomed Assam’s gesture in sending officials over to Aizawl for the talks. “Chief Minister Zoramthanga is happy with the progress, and we hope Assam Chief Minister will be too,” he said. Lalruatkima, who also attended the meeting, said, “The Deputy Commissioners of both states along the border districts will meet once a month… This is to ensure matters do not escalate and are resolved at the DC-level itself.”

On the root cause of the dispute — the differences over interpretations of the border demarcation — both Singhal and Lalchamliana said the talks were the first step and they hoped progress would be made gradually.

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