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Mistaken Identity, Open Firing: The Case of Nagaland Civilian Killings So Far

14 civilians were killed by the army in Nagaland, in an incident that has been "deeply regretted" by the forces.

Published
India
4 min read
Mistaken Identity, Open Firing: The Case of Nagaland Civilian Killings So Far
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As many as 14 civilians were killed by the Indian army in Nagaland on Saturday, 4 December, and Sunday, 5 December, in a series of incidents that have been "deeply regretted" by the armed forces and the central government.

The killings have incited the public ire. Many have condemned the army's action in Nagaland, which has been explained by the forces and the government as arising out of a 'case of mistaken identity' and a move for self-defence.

Here's a lowdown on what has transpired in the matter so far.

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How 14 Civilians Were Killed in Nagaland

A 'Case of Mistaken Identity'

A vehicle carrying eight coal miners in Nagaland's Oting village was gunned down by army personnel on Saturday, who were engaged in a counter-insurgency mission. Six civilians died in the incident, which was regretted as a case of 'mistaken identity' by the army.

The civilian killings triggered violence in the region on Saturday night, which continued till Sunday.

Alleged Attempt to Hide the Bodies of the Deceased

An official release issued by the Nagaland Police indicates that security personnel involved in the ambush incident on Saturday evening had attempted to hide the bodies of the deceased coal miners:

"On hearing the gunshots, the villagers went to the spot being apprehensive that the individuals did not return home from work. On reaching the spot, they found the pickup truck and the Special Armed Forces Personnel trying to hide the bodies of six villagers by wrapping and loading them in another pickup truck (Tata Mobile) apparently with the intention of taking their bodies to the base camp."

As per the statement, the enraged villagers had subsequently burnt down three vehicles belonging to the security forces.

One more civilian died in the violence that ensued between the locals and the security personnel.

'For Self-Defence'

On Sunday, 600-700 locals had barged into the camps of the Assam Rifles in retaliation for the killings, as per the police. The mob had sticks, stones, machetes, and inflammable fluids.

The army had fired upon the villagers in order to disperse the crowd. Seven civilians were killed in the firing.

One jawan also died in the unrest.

In order to contain the turmoil, the Nagaland administration implemented prohibitory orders, with Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) being imposed in Mon.

The government had also shut down mobile internet and SMS services in the district.

Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had announced an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh to be paid to the kin of the deceased.

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'Deeply Regretted': What the Army Has Said

Issuing a statement on Sunday, the Indian army said:

"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 is deeply regretted."

"Cause of loss of lives is being probed by a court of inquiry at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken," Assam Rifles officials were quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

'Intention of Security Forces Was to Murder and Injure Civilians': Nagaland Police Files FIR

The Nagaland police on Sunday took suo motu cognisance of the civilian killings, and registered an FIR against 21 paramilitary personnel.

In the FIR, accessed by The Quint, the Nagaland police said that the forces "blankly opened fire (sic)" and that the intention was to "murder and injure civilians".

"On reaching at Longkhao between Upper Tiru and Oting village, security forces blankly opened fire at the vehicle without any provocation resulting to the killing of many Oting villagers and seriously injured many others (sic)."
The FIR

"It is to be noted that at the time of the incident there was no police guide nor security forces did make requidition to police forces to provide police guide for their operation. Hence it is obvious that the intention of security forces is to murder and injure civilians (sic)," it said.

The state government has also constituted a five-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the incident within a month.

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'Army Was Forced to Fire to Defend Itself': Home Minister

Addressing the Lok Sabha on Monday, 6 December, Home Minister Amit Shah, who has received widespread censure from the Opposition and others for the civilian deaths, said:

"The army had received information on the movement of extremists in Oting, Mon. On that basis, 21 commandos laid an ambush in the suspected district. A vehicle reached there, it was signalled to stop but it tried to flee. On suspicion of the vehicle carrying extremists, it was fired upon. Due to this, six of the eight persons in the vehicle died."

"Later, it was found to be a matter of mistaken identity. The two who had been injured were taken by the army to a nearby hospital for treatment. After receiving the news, locals surrounded the army unit. They set two vehicles on fire and attacked them. Because of this, one jawan was killed, while several got injured," he said.

"In order to defend themselves, the army personnel were forced to fire. Due to this, seven more persons died, while some others were injured," the home minister said.

"After the incident, on 5 December evening, a crowd of around 250 people attcked the company operating base (COB) of Assam Rifles in Mon town. The crowd set the COB building on fire. Assam Rifles personnel were forced to resort to gunfire to disperse the crowd (goli chalani padi). This caused the death of one more civilian," Shah added.

The home minister noted that in addition to the institution of an SIT, the army has taken up the investigation at the highest level.

Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and Asaduddin Owaisi have slammed the BJP and called for Shah's sacking. A four-member Congress delegation will be visiting the region in order to report on the matter of the killings, the party has announced.

The incident has also renewed the widespread call for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, which grants special powers to the army to maintain public order in "disturbed areas," including Nagaland.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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