GUWAHATI/AIZAWL- At least six Assam Police personnel were killed while defending the “constitutional boundary” of the state with Mizoram and more than 60 people injured, including an SP, as the festering border dispute between the two northeastern states erupted into a bloody conflict on Monday, officials said.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to the chief ministers of Assam and Mizoram, Himanta Biswa Sarma and Zoramthanga respectively, and urged them to ensure peace along the disputed border and find an amicable settlement.
Assam”s Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi share a 164 km long border with Mizoram”s three districts of Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit.
After allegations of encroachment of territory by both sides over the past few weeks and skirmishes that escalated tensions between the two states, violent clashes were reported along the inter-state border that ended in the death of at least six Assam policemen.
The incidents came two days after Amit Shah held talks with the chief ministers of eight northeastern states and underscored the need to resolve lingering border disputes.
“I am deeply pained to inform that six brave jawans of @assampolice have sacrificed their lives while defending constitutional boundary of our state at the Assam-Mizoram border. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families,” Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma tweeted.
Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana, in a statement, claimed Mizoram Police responded “spontaneously by firing back” at Assam Police after its 200 personnel forcibly crossed a duty post manned by the CRPF personnel and indulged in arson, assault on unarmed persons and firing.
Though Sarma initially did not blame Mizoram police for the killing of the six policemen, he later tweeted,”Clear evidences are now beginning to emerge that unfortunately show that Mizoram Police has used Light Machine Guns (LMG) against personnel of @assampolice.
“This is sad, unfortunate and speaks volumes about the intention and gravity of the situation.”
A senior Assam Police officer, who is still inside the forest amid continuous firing from across the border, told PTI that at least 50 personnel, including Cachar Superintendent of Police Vaibhav Chandrakant Nimbalkar, were injured in firing and stone-pelting.
The Assam police officer claimed “miscreants” from across the border suddenly started firing when civil officials of both sides were holding talks to sort out the differences.
“I immediately cannot say how many people have been injured, but my guess is at least 50 personnel. Our SP was also injured in the firing and a bullet hit his leg,” the officer said over the phone.
“I along with the team am still sitting at the foothills. We were engaged in a dialogue with Mizoram”s Kolasib SP Mr Ralte and his additional SP. Assam Police IGP, DC, SP all were there and talking to find a solution to the problem.
“We did not allow our public to go there, but their people were constantly throwing stones. Many were injured. They were also hitting us with marbles using catapults. As we were talking, they opened fire from a hilltop,” he said.
The officer said the Assam Police team “somehow” managed to take position and start retaliatory firing.
Meanwhile, Silchar Medical College and Hospital (SMCH) Principal Babul Bezbarua told PTI that at least 50 police personnel were admitted with bullet injuries.
“There is a constant flow of injured personnel. As we are talking, another vehicle with a few more injured persons have entered the hospital. All of them have bullet or pellet injuries. We have called in all doctors and formed different teams to treat the injured,” he said.
Around 10 more people, mostly policemen, were admitted to a hospital in nearby Dholai, officials said.
During his separate telephonic conversations with Assam CM Sarma and his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga, Shah asked them to maintain peace along the inter-state border where tension prevails, official sources said.
The home minister asked the chief ministers to resolve the border issue through discussion.
Soon after, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana said in a statement that following the intervention of Shah, the Assam Police have withdrawn from the place and the duty post has been handed back to CRPF personnel.
Earlier, Zoramthanga accused the Assam Police of resorting to lathi-charge and lobbing tear gas shells while Assam Police claimed that a large number of “miscreants” from Mizoram had indulged in stone pelting and attacked Assam government officials.
Zoramthanga posted a video on his Twitter handle of a stand-off between Assam police personnel and a group of stick-wielding youths.
“Shri @AmitShah ji kindly look into the matter. This needs to be stopped right now. #MizoramAssamBorderTension,” he said, tagging the Prime Minister”s office and Union Home Minister”s office, Sarma and officials of Assam”s Cachar district.
Zoramthanga also alleged in another tweet that “an innocent couple” on their way back to Mizoram via Cachar was “manhandled” by “thugs and goons”.
“How are you going to justify these violent acts?” he asked.
The Assam Police countered his allegations by saying that people from Mizoram attacked its personnel and indulged in stone-pelting on them.
“It”s unfortunate that a large number of miscreants from Mizoram are indulging in stone pelting and such forms of attack at Assam Government Officials, stationed at Lailapur to protect Assam”s land from encroachment,” it tweeted.
The Assam chief minister also tweeted: “Honble @ZoramthangaCM ji , Kolasib ( Mizoram) SP is asking us to withdraw from our post until then their civilians won”t listen nor stop violence.
“How can we run government in such circumstances? Hope you will intervene at earliest @AmitShah @PMOIndia,” he tweeted posting a video of the situation.
The two states share a nearly 165 km boundary where violent showdowns between their residents and officials have become frequent occurrence.
The long-standing dispute has its origin in a notification of 1875 issued during the British era that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933 that demarcates a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
Mizoram insists the inter-state boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, a corollary to the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873. Mizoram leaders have, however, been arguing against the demarcation notified in 1933 claiming Mizo society was not consulted, while Assam wants that notification to be enforced.