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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Nagaland: 14 civilians killed by forces; soldier dies of injuries as violence erupts

The incident triggered violence in the area Saturday night and late Sunday afternoon, in which eight more civilians (seven on Saturday, and one Sunday) were killed after security forces allegedly opened fire.

Written by Tora Agarwala | Guwahati |
December 6, 2021 4:00:27 am
Bodies of the 14 who were killed, in Mon district Sunday. Six of them were coal mine workers. (PTI)

SIX CIVILIANS, said to be workers in a coal mine, were killed in an ambush by security forces in an area between Tiru and Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district while returning home in a vehicle Saturday evening. The incident triggered violence in the area Saturday night and late Sunday afternoon, in which eight more civilians (seven on Saturday, and one Sunday) were killed after security forces allegedly opened fire.

A soldier succumbed to injuries in the violence Saturday night, and several others were severely injured, said the Army’s Dimapur-based 3rd Corps in a statement.

Shattering the relative calm in Nagaland, the killings and the subsequent violence put a question mark on peace talks. The killing of civilians has been condemned by local civil society organisations, Naga outfits, national political parties, and the state government itself.

The Konyak Union Kohima and the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (which includes six tribes from the region) said they would abstain from further participation at the ongoing Hornbill Festival. The government said two minutes of silence and prayer will be observed at Kisama, all locations of the Naga Heritage Village, and all events of the Hornbill Festival in “remembrance and solidarity of the dead in Mon”.?

The situation continued to be tense in Mon district Sunday. Authorities said large crowds of angry villagers gathered in Mon town late afternoon and marched to the Assam Rifles camp. “They engaged in vandalism, destruction, and set fire to some buildings. The security forces opened fire, which led to the death of one civilian. One more was injured,” Abhijit Sinha, Principal Secretary (Home), Nagaland, told The Indian Express.

Things were calmer now, and curfew has been imposed in Mon town, Sinha said. Internet services remain suspended in the district since Saturday.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah expressed his condolences to the victims’ families. “Anguished over an unfortunate incident in Nagaland’s Oting, Mon. I express my deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives. A high-level SIT constituted by the State govt will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families,” he said in a tweet.

Nagaland ambush, nagaland assam rifles, assam rifles nagaland, nagaland civilians, nagalands Hornbill Festival, nagaland news, neiphiu roi Villagers burn vehicles belonging to security personnel after civilians were killed at Oting village under Mon district of Nagaland on Saturday night. (Photo: PTI)

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio said the unfortunate incident leading to killing of civilians at Oting, Mon was “highly condemnable”. “Condolences to the bereaved families & speedy recovery of those injured. High level SIT will investigate & justice delivered as per the law of the land. Appeal for peace from all sections,” he said in a tweet.

When contacted, Y Patton, Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister, Nagaland, told The Indian Express, “They are saying it is a case of mistaken identity, but I cannot confirm until I reach the spot and find out.” Patton was en route to Oting in Mon district.

“It seems like a botched-up ambush,” said a Nagaland government official, on the condition of anonymity. Security forces on Saturday mistook the identity of the victims to be that of the Yung Aung faction of proscribed outfit NSCN (K) and carried out the ambush. This faction is dominated by the Burmese Nagas, but also has Konyak cadre members. The Konyak tribe, the last of the head-hunters, are the largest tribe in Nagaland, and number under 3 lakh.

Chief Minister Rio will be in Mon town Monday morning to attend the funeral of the civilians killed. After the funeral – which is scheduled at 10 am Monday – the bodies will be brought to Oting for burial.

The case, originally registered in Tizit Police Station and being investigated by the Mon District Police, was Sunday transferred to the State Crime Police Station. The investigation will be taken up by the SIT comprising IG-Police Limasunep Jamir, DIG Roopa M, SP (Crime) Manoj Kumar, SP Nagaland Police Kilang Walling, and Deputy Commandant Nagaland Police Relo Aye.

The case was transferred to the SIT “to facilitate free and fair investigation” and given its complexities which may involve investigation at multiple jurisdictions beyond the Mon district, said a December 5 official order by J Alam, Chief Secretary, Nagaland. The terms of reference of the SIT are to take over the case immediately and visit the scene of crime and collect the evidence, and to complete the probe within a month of its registration.

Government sources said on Saturday night, there was an uproar in the village after people learnt about the ambush incident. They allegedly burned down vehicles of the security forces. When the security forces opened fire, locals too were armed with some weapons including machetes, they said.

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