Amit Shah Says Govt 'Regrets' Nagaland Killings; 'Vehicle Was Asked to Stop But Tried to Flee'

Shah also said that later, to disperse agitated crowds, the forces had to open fire twice, killing more people.

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New Delhi: Union home minister Amit Shah has said the Union government regrets the incident in which firing by security forces in Nagaland killed to what is now 15 civilians. Making a statement in Lok Sabha on the violence in the state over the past couple of days, Shah however, claimed that the vehicle carrying civilians which was fired at was asked to stop but did not.

As The Wire has reported, on December 4, a contingent of the army’s counter-insurgency unit, 21 Para Special Forces, killed six civilians and injured two others – all residents of Oting village in the state’s Mon district bordering Myanmar – while they were returning home in a pick-up van after working at a coal mine. The security forces apparently ‘mistook’ them for militants.

On December 4 itself, seven other civilians died after they were shot by that unit at Oting a little after the first incident. Two persons succumbed to their injuries from that shooting on December 5.

Shah added that a Special Investigation Team has been formed and it would submit its report within a week.

Opposition members, some of whom had earlier in the day given adjournment notices and sought a discussion on the issue, were not satisfied with the home minister’s statement and staged a walkout after their demand for a discussion was not accepted. Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and the Nationalist Congress Party were among those whose MPs were part of the walk out.

“Government of India expresses deep regret over the unfortunate incident in Nagaland and also expresses condolences to the bereaved families,” Shah said.

On what led to the firing in Mon district of Nagaland in which the civilians were killed, Shah said, “Army had received information on the movement of extremists in Oting, Mon. On that basis, 21 commandos laid an ambush in suspected area. 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.”

Later, it was discovered that these were civilians, Shah said.

He said local people, on getting news of firing, surrounded and attacked the troops and one soldier was killed in violence while several others were injured.

Shah said that in “self defence and to disperse the crowd, the troops had to open fire” in which seven civilians were killed.

He said that on Sunday evening, an agitated crowd of 250 targeted Assam Rifles company operating base, in Mon, and “forces had to open fire” to disperse the crowds, in which one civilian was killed.

Shah has made no comment on Nagaland Police’s preliminary report hinting at a possible cover-up of the gruesome action by security forces. He has also not referred to BJP’s Mon district president Nyawang Konyak’s statement to the press that Special Forces personnel were seen removing the clothes of the unarmed civilian victims at the scene of the December 4 Oting firing and were trying to dress them up in “khaki” clothes.

The home minister added, “A SIT has been formed and has been directed to complete investigation within a month. The situation in Nagaland is tense but under control.” He added that “to avert any more incidents in the affected area, additional forces have been deployed.”

Shah added that all agencies have been told to ensure such incidents do not happen in future. “It has been decided that all agencies should ensure that such unfortunate incidents do not take place again in the future while taking up such drives.” He said the government was monitoring the situation minutely since Sunday and necessary remedial measures are being taken to ensure peace in the area.

“The MHA immediately sent the additional secretary in charge of the North East to Kohima where he today held a meeting with the Chief Secretary, other senior government officials and senior officers of the paramilitary forces. The situation was reviewed in detail,” Shah added.

On the role being played by the Army, whose units were also involved in the incident, Shah said, “The Army has taken up investigation into the reasons behind this incident at the highest level. Action will be taken as per the law. I immediately contacted the Governor and CM of the state after receiving the news of the incident. MHA also contacted the Chief Secretary and DGP.”

The home minister said a press statement has also been issued by Army’s III Corps headquarters in which the latter has expressed regret for the incident.