New Delhi: Union Home Minister Amit Shah told the Lok Sabha Monday that the killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland was a case of “mistaken identity” and all agencies “must ensure that such an unfortunate incident is not repeated while fighting insurgency”.
Shah said the deaths were “deeply regretted” and that the government offers its condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in Nagaland’s Mon district on 4 and 5 December.
However, the home minister said that after the first incident, when six civilians were killed in an ambush by security forces, an angry crowd of locals gathered and started attacking security personnel, following which they had to open fire “to disperse the crowd and defend themselves”.
A total of six civilians lost their lives in the ambush in Mon district Saturday evening, followed by a mob attack on the forces’ camp, which led to the death of seven more civilians. The Army has said that one of its soldiers also lost his life. On 5 December, another civilian was killed.
‘Vehicle tried to escape’
The Saturday incident took place when a group of labourers was returning from a coal mine near Oting village. Mon is the easternmost district of Nagaland and is dominated by the Konyak tribe.
“Information was received about the movement of insurgents in the area, based on which a unit of 21 para commando laid an ambush. When a vehicle reached the spot near the ambush, it was signalled to stop. It, however, did not stop and tried to escape. That is when security forces suspected that there could be insurgents inside. On this doubt, they opened fire and six out of the eight persons inside the vehicle were killed,” Shah told Lok Sabha.
“It was later found that it was a case of mistaken identity. While six men were killed, the other two injured were then taken to the hospital by security personnel,” Shah said.
Shah said after news of the civilian killings spread, people from adjoining villages “cornered the forces, burnt down two vehicles and attacked them, in which a personnel was killed and many others were injured”. To disperse the crowd and defend themselves, Shah claimed, the forces had to again “open fire”.
“Because of this, seven more people were killed and others were injured,” Shah said.
On 5 December, added Shah, over 250 people gathered before an Assam Rifle operating base and tried to “ransack the building”.
“The mob vandalised property and also set the house of a personnel on fire. To disperse the crowd, security forces opened fire and another person (civilian) died,” Shah said.
“More force has been deployed in the area to prevent any further untoward incident,” he added.
‘Situation remains tense, being monitored’
Shah also told the Lok Sabha that although the situation in Nagaland remains tense, it is “under control”.
He said that a special investigation team (SIT) has been formed to probe the incident and has been asked to submit a report in one month.
“Senior officers have taken a round of the spot, a case has been registered and a thorough investigation in the incident has been initiated. In this regard, an SIT has also been made, which has been asked to finish the probe in one month and file a report,” Shah said.
Shah said that on receiving news of the incident, he immediately got in touch with the governor and the chief minister of Nagaland. The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also got in touch with the chief secretary and the DGP of Nagaland and monitored the situation throughout the day on 5 December.
He said the MHA also deputed the additional secretary in-charge of Northeast to Kohima, where he held a meeting with the chief secretary and other senior officers of the Nagaland government and senior officers of the paramilitary forces Monday morning.
“The situation was reviewed in detail to ensure that normalcy is restored at the earliest. The government is keeping a close watch on the evolving situation and necessary measures are being taken as per requirement to ensure peace and tranquility. The state authorities, as a precautionary measure, have promulgated prohibitory orders in the affected areas,” Shah said.
‘Civilian killings deeply regretted’
Shah said that the civilian killings are “deeply regretted”. “The Government of India sincerely regrets this unfortunate incident in Nagaland and expresses its deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives,” Shah said.
“The HQ 3 Corps, Army has released a press statement wherein they have deeply regretted the incident and its aftermath, which resulted in the unfortunate killing of innocent civilians. It further mentioned that the cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per law,” Shah said.
(Edited by Saikat Niyogi)