The killing of six civilians travelling in a vehicle in Nagaland’s Mon district Saturday is being investigated “at the highest level”, the Army said, while expressing deep regret and ordering a Court of Inquiry into the incident.
Officials in the security establishment said the incident was the result of an Army operation in which the victims may have been mistaken for insurgents from the Yung Aung faction of the banned National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang).
Assam Rifles and the Army’s Dimapur-based 3rd Corps said in identical statements Sunday 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”.
Without providing details, the statement said that “the incident and its aftermath is deeply regretted”. “The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated by a Court of Inquiry at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law,” it said.
The statement noted that the “security forces have suffered severe injuries in the operation, including one soldier who succumbed to his injuries”.
Officials said Piyush Goyal, Additional Secretary in charge of North East in the Union Home Ministry, will hold a meeting Monday in Nagaland with all the stakeholders involved, including security forces.
Security personnel need to be “adequately” certain about a threat, officials said, but there was no confirmation of any weapons being present in the vehicle that was targeted Saturday.
Following intelligence inputs, the Army had planned an operation to ambush “certain elements” of the NSCN (K) faction who were travelling in a Bolero, sources said. The security personnel laid a cordon and spotted a similar vehicle on the route around 5.30 pm, they said.
It was dark when the vehicle was flagged down, and the driver sped away following which the forces opened fire, said sources. Apart from six killed in the vehicle, two more were injured and taken by security personnel for medical treatment, they said.
Sources indicated that as local villagers came to know about the incident, they surrounded the security personnel. Around 7.30 pm, they said, several villagers armed with machetes attacked the personnel, and managed to snatch some guns from them. The forces initially fired in the air in warning, which was followed by firing from both sides that resulted in the death of one soldier and eight more civilians, including one Sunday. At least three other soldiers were injured in the clashes, sources said.
According to officials, the Tiru area of Mon district lies within the area of responsibility of Assam Rifles (North), but the operation was conducted by the Army. Assam Rifles is a paramilitary force under the administrative control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, but its operational control lies with the Ministry of Defence. All its senior officers are from the Army.
In 2017, following the death of S S Khaplang, infighting broke out in the NSCN (K) resulting in the formation of two factions. The first was led by Niki Simi, which operated on the Indian side of the India-Myanmar border and largely consisted of local Naga militants. In December 2020, Simi is believed to have been brought to Guwahati and then to Delhi for talks with the Government, subsequent to which a ceasefire agreement was signed.
The second faction, led by Burmese Naga leader Yung Aung, operates out of Myanmar. Their operational area includes parts of Mon district, which borders Myanmar, as well as parts of Arunachal Pradesh. While dominated by Burmese Nagas, the Yung Aung faction also has Konyak cadre members.
(With inputs from Esha Roy)
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