Guwahati, India – A protester has been killed in the Mon district of Nagaland state after Indian security forces fired on people protesting against the killing of 13 civilians a day earlier in the northeastern state.
Violence broke out again on Sunday after a large crowd of people marched to a security force camp in Mon town and began damaging and burning buildings, a state government official said.
The killings of the civilians allegedly by security forces in what the officials described as a “broken” operation caused widespread outrage in Nagaland, which saw decades of armed rebellion against Indian rule. The region has been relatively quiet over the past few years as armed groups have begun negotiations with the Indian government.
“The people are very angry,” said Honang Konyak, vice president of the Konyak Union, the top body of the Konyak tribe that dominates the Mon district on the Indo-Myanmar border.
“The security forces, who were supposed to be guardians, killed innocent people,” he said.
They happily shot at us
At least six people have been killed after security forces fired on a truck carrying coal miners, who were considered “militants”. Another seven civilians were killed after locals clashed with security forces later Saturday night.
The government of Nagaland hastened top police and government officials and detained ban orders in Mon town. Earlier, it banned mobile internet and SMS services throughout the district, citing “understanding of serious law and order problems”.
The ban was lifted on Sunday night, but Sandeep M Tamgadge, the deputy director-general of the police in Nagaland, confirmed that the situation remained tense.
A special investigation team consisting of five police officers was put together under the supervision of Tamgadge. “It was instructed to investigate the matter within one month,” he said.
The Indian Army’s Spear Corps said it regretted the incident and its aftermath.
“The cause of the unfortunate loss of life is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate steps will be taken according to the course of the law,” the statement read.
At least one soldier was killed in the incident, the Spear Corps said in a statement. Another 11 civilians were injured in the incident, Indian authorities said.
“Four of the injured staff members were evacuated to Dimapur (the capital of Nagaland). “Five of them are at the civilian hospital in Mon while two are being treated in Dibrugarh (in neighboring Assam),” said Abhijeet Sinha, Nagaland’s interior minister.
By@AJEngelstoday we were clear part: (1) We mourn with people of #Monday #Nagaland at this time (2) This is NOT the first time such a massacre has happened in NO and it must END once and for all (3) Compassion is not enough, appeals to the government of India to #HerroepAFSPA pic.twitter.com/gYMhNj953r
– Binalakshmi Nepram (@BinaNepram) 5 December 2021
According to local reports, the incident happened on Saturday night when security forces allegedly opened fire on a pickup truck transporting workers returning to Oting from the coal mines in lower Tire, less than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) away.
Mon district falls on the route regularly operated by several rebel groups in the area, according to police officers.
“Based on credible intelligence of probable movement of insurgents, a specific operation in the area of Tiru is planned,” Spear Corps said.
“This is a total failure of intelligence,” said Honang Konyak, Vice President of the Konyak Union.
According to a senior government official from Nagaland who spoke on condition of anonymity, the civil servants were not aware of the input.
“We had no information about their (security forces’) movement,” the official said. “We still do not know how they viewed the daily bets as insurgents.”
“They opened fire on us”
Kheatwang Konyak, a resident of Oting, said people heard gunshots. “A few hours later, when the boys did not return home, we went to look for them,” he told Al Jazeera.
Some distance away from the village, the residents claim to have found the bodies in a bakkie that belonged to the security forces. “The army personnel were about to take them away,” Kheatwang Konyak claimed.
While emotions ran high, a crowd of people set fire to three vehicles. Local residents claim the security forces re-opened fire amid the clashes.
– Indrajith | INDRAJIT (indiindrojit) 5 December 2021
“I had a party flag on my vehicle, even then they opened fire on us,” said Nyawang Konyak, the district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is part of the ruling alliance in Nagaland. Nyawang told Al Jazeera he ran to save his life, but three others were shot at in his vehicle.
“My driver and my nephew were shot in the leg,” he claimed.
“They happily shot at us,” Nyawang claimed, adding that another person in his vehicle died of injuries. “God saved my life.”
Al Jazeera has not been able to independently verify these allegations, which have yet to be substantiated by Indian officials.
‘Failure of intelligence’
Indian media reports citing sources in the security forces said they expected the Yung Aung faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), a banned outfit operating out of neighboring Myanmar.
Other factions of the NSCN are currently in talks with the government for a solution to the Naga issue that has fueled the rebellion in the region for decades.
The Naga groups demanded sovereignty and more autonomy. While most groups seemed to be pushing for an early solution, a faction of the NSCN adhered to its demand for shared sovereignty with a separate flag and constitution. This faction signed a ceasefire agreement in 1997.
Politicians in Nagaland fear that the attack could hamper the ongoing peace talks between the Naga-armed groups and the government.
“At a time when the Indo-Naga issue is nearing an end, such a haphazard and vile action by the security forces is unthinkable and unfathomable,” reads a statement by the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party.
The party has demanded that the state government take up the issue of repealing the Armed Forces (Special Forces) Act, a law which, according to legal groups, said the security forces operating in the area were unpunished.
In 2017, the Supreme Court ordered an investigation into 1,528 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings between 2000 and 2012 by security forces and police in neighboring Manipur, another state under AFSPA.
Temjen Imna Along, a minister in the state government and head of the Nagaland unit of the BJP, praised the security forces, even though he said the incident was “equivalent to war crimes during peacetime and amounts to summary execution as well as genocide” .
In a statement shared on his Facebook page, Along said that since the peace process is on the verge of a settlement, “it is time to be extremely careful and patient.”
Meanwhile, candlelight vigils were held in several places in the state. The incident affected the celebrations at the Rhino Bird Festival, an annual event showcasing Naga culture, as several tribes announced they were suspending their participation in the aftermath of the deadly incident.