NEW DELHI: Indian forces apologised on Sunday for an ambush in the volatile state of Nagaland that killed 14 people, including 13 civilians, the previous day.
Reports quoted the security forces as saying it was a case of “mistaken identity”, and stressed the situation continued to be tense in Nagaland’s Mon district on Sunday.
The authorities said that a large crowd of angry villagers gathered in Mon town and marched to the Assam Rifles camp, “engaging in vandalism”. The security forces opened fire, leading to the death of one more civilian.
“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, a home ministry official, told The Indian Express. He added that the situation was under control and prohibitory orders had been imposed in Mon town.
A protester is shot dead as demonstrators vandalise military camp
In a statement on Sunday morning, the Assam Rifles said 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 divulging details on the number of casualties or the units involved, the statement said “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, adding that the “security forces have suffered severe injuries in the operation, including one soldier who succumbed to his injuries”.
In a tweet on Sunday, India’s Home Minister Amit Shah promised justice to the families of those killed. “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,” Shah tweeted.
Assam Rifles comes under the ambit of the federal home ministry.
As per local reports, security forces mistook the victims to be members of the Yung Aung faction of a proscribed outfit, National Socialist Council of Nagaland (K). “It seems like a botched-up ambush,” the Express quoted a Nagaland government official as saying.
According to sources in Oting, a few local boys were returning to their village after working in a mine on Saturday evening when their vehicle was allegedly fired upon by security personnel. “They died on the spot,” the Press trust of India said, adding that the security forces were conducting an operation in the area after receiving input on the movement of militants of the Yung Aung faction.
Sources in the security forces asserted that it was a case of mistaken identity. An official said that based on certain input, the forces were waiting for people in a specific Bolero car around 5.30pm on Saturday. It was already dark when they spotted a similar Bolero and launched an operation, the official said.
In the operation and the clashes that ensued with the security forces later, 13 civilians were killed.
Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2021