Botched Nagaland Army Operation Kills 14 Civilians

by Divyakshee Katikala

A counter-insurgency operation in Nagaland went awry on the 4th of December, Saturday, killing thirteen civilians and a soldier in an Indo-Myanmar border area. A mob then stormed the Assam Rifles camp, leading to the killing of another villager. Security personnel opened fire on civilians in Nagaland’s Mon district, leaving 14 people dead and 11 others injured in three separate instances, the first of which was potentially an error- a case of mistaken identification, police said on Sunday. In the resultant violence, one soldier was also slain. 

The first firing, which killed six civilians, occurred when army troops mistakenly identified coal mine workers heading back home in a pick-up van singing songs on Saturday evening for insurgents affiliated to the Yung Aung faction of the banned outfit NSCN (K), about whose movements they had already been informed about. 

Para Special Forces were flown in from Assam for an operation based on specific intelligence concerning the movement of NSCN (K-YA) militants, according to sources. A barrel-like image was captured on the suspects’ surveillance cameras before they got into their cars during the security operation. According to sources, it was most likely a hunting rifle widely used by locals in the area. 

Following this tip-off about a possible movement of insurgents, they had laid an ambush near Oting village on Saturday afternoon but opened fire on this pick-up truck carrying civilians instead. 

The army group sought assistance and transported the two injured victims in their vehicles after realising they had targeted the wrong people. The injured were sent to Dibrugarh for medical attention.

When these labourers did not return home, local youth and villagers set out in search of them and upon discovering the six bodies, swarmed army trucks. One soldier was killed in this subsequent confrontation, and army vehicles were set ablaze and burnt down. According to police authorities, soldiers who reportedly fired in self-defence further killed another seven civilians.

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Army vehicles that were set ablaze during the confrontation (Photo: India Today)
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Agitated rioters then vandalised the offices of the Konyak Union and an Assam Rifles camp in the neighbourhood on Sunday afternoon, setting fire to sections of the camp. As security personnel retaliated against the mobs, at least one more person was killed and two more were injured. 

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Mobs attacking an Assam Rifle camp in Nagaland

To combat the “circulation of inflammatory videos, pictures, or text,” the Nagaland government, clamping Section 144 in the Mon district, issued a notification banning mobile, internet, and data services, as well as bulk SMS, throughout the area. However, despite the district’s ban on internet access, videos of a crowd vandalising the Konyak Union office in Mon and the Assam Rifles camp are emerging on social media.

According to police, the post-mortem for those murdered is being performed in Mon, and they are concerned that the number of fatalities may escalate owing to the fact that at least two of those injured were in severe condition and had to be airlifted to Assam hospitals, while the remainder were being treated in Nagaland. 

Ordering a Court of Inquiry into the incident, the Army said one of its personnel was killed and several others were seriously injured. PRO Defence (Kohima) Lt Col Sumit K Sharma released a statement in response to this tragedy, saying that  “Based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents, a specific operation was planned to be conducted in the area of Tiru, Mon District, Nagaland. The incident and its aftermath are deeply regretted”. The Indian Army 3 Corps in Dimapur has begun an internal inquiry headed by a Major-General rank officer. According to top security officials, the investigation team will follow the chain of events that led to the shooting.

Neiphiu Rio, the state’s chief minister, has returned from Delhi and announced a visit to Mon on Monday to speak with villagers. According to an official statement by Nagaland Governor Jagdish Mukhi, the state government has also decided to form a high-level Special Investigation Team (SIT) led by an IGP level officer to investigate the tragedy.  “SIT will look into the issue from every viewpoint,” states the announcement.

“The unfortunate incident leading to the killing of civilians at Oting, Mon is 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” tweeted Chief Minister Rio.

On Sunday, the Nagaland government authorities announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 5 lakh to each of the deceased’s families. On Sunday night, Nagaland Transport Minister Paiwang Konyak presented the ex-gratia to the Village Council chairman.

He told India Today TV over the phone that ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh was provided to the relatives of the victims and Rs 50,000 to the injured.

“On Saturday evening, 13 civilians were killed in an area between Tiru and Oting village and one civilian was killed on Sunday evening at Mon town area. Two critically injured persons have been admitted at Assam Medical College and Hospital, Dibrugarh and three others were airlifted to Dimapur for better treatment. Few others are now in Mon hospital,” Paiwang Konyak said.

The Mon district police filed a suo moto FIR against 21 paramilitary soldiers on Monday, describing the fatalities as “murder.”  The unit did not request a police guide for operations, according to the police officers, and they said that the “intention was to murder.” The 14 citizens’ funeral services were performed this morning.

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A tearful funeral procession was held for the victims (Photo: India Today)

Amit Shah, the Union Home Minister, will make a speech on the Nagaland shooting incident today in both Houses of Parliament. The event has been discussed with Shah and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, according to Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu, who added that the home minister will make a statement in the afternoon.

On Saturday, Shah had expressed his sorrow over the event and offered his sympathies to the victims’ families.

The incident occurred during the state’s signature “Hornbill Festival,” which is being attended by several diplomats. The Konyak community, to which the people belonged, has decided to stop participating in the Hornbill Festival in the future. Six other tribal groups have also said that they would not be participating. Following this, the festival was suspended. 

The Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), one of Nagaland’s most influential organisations, criticised the event and asked that the state government investigate the alleged human rights breaches under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), as well as firmly advocating for its removal.

“Let the world know our grief and sorrow, and may our voices of protest be heard against the continuing militarization and killings under the AFSPA,” NMA president Abeiu Meru and secretary Lochumbeni Humtsoe said in a statement.

The statement continued, “The NMA is urging other Naga tribes to join us in solidarity with our Konyak Nagas by boycotting the Hornbill Festival. When we grieve our dead in our houses, it is banned in our Naga culture to feast “. 

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(Photo: India Today)

The Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Ordinance 1958 was promulgated by then President Dr Rajendra Prasad on May 22, 1958. It was replaced by the Armed Forces (Assam and Manipur) Special Powers Act, 1958 on September 11, 1958. The Act grants special powers to the armed forces to maintain public order in “disturbed areas”.

Following this tragedy, public uproar over the AFSPA statute has gained fresh momentum, with advocates calling for its immediate repeal. 

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