New Delhi: The violence at an Assam-Meghalaya border village which killed six people was “not related to the border dispute between the two states,” a Union home ministry official has said, according to The Hindu.
The report does not name the official.
Assam and Meghalaya have a longstanding dispute over 12 areas of the 884.9 km long interstate border. The two north-eastern states had signed a Memorandum of Understanding in March in the presence of Union home minister Amit Shah in New Delhi to end the dispute in six of them and initiated discussions to resolve the disputes in the remaining six.
Violence had broken out at the border between the two states in the early hours of Tuesday, November 22, after a truck allegedly laden with illegally felled timber was intercepted by forest guards from Assam. Six people – five tribal villagers from Meghalaya and a forest guard from Assam – were killed.
Following this, tribal residents from the Meghalaya side allegedly burned down a forest office in Assam’s West Karbi Anglong district, leading to fears that the spiral of violence would spread in the two states.
At least two vehicles, one in Mukroh village where the violence took place on Tuesday and another in Meghalaya’s capital Shillong, were set ablaze by a mob.
Members of the students’ union held demonstrations at the Lalong Civil Hospital where the bodies of all the six people were brought for post-mortem examinations and demanded that those responsible for the killing be handed over to the Meghalaya Police.
Following reports of attacks on vehicles from Assam driving through Meghalaya, the Assam Police set up barricades at various border crossings and asked people not to travel to the hill state in vehicles bearing Assam number plates.
In an effort to de-escalate tensions, chief ministers of Assam and Meghalaya have spoken over the phone. Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has echoed Meghalaya chief minister Conrad Sangma’s assertion that the firing by Assam law enforcement was “unprovoked.”
Last evening, Sarma said his state police – accused of shooting dead five tribal villagers from Meghalaya – had acted in a manner which was “unprovoked, uncontrolled and arbitrary”.
Sarma said the investigation would be handed over to the CBI, according to a decision by his cabinet. This is also what the Meghalaya CM had called for.
An Assam cabinet meeting was also held, quite unprecedentedly, in Delhi where the state’s ministers had come to attend a central function honouring Assamese medieval hero Lachit Borphukan.
In it ministers asked the state police force to use restraint while dealing with issues or disturbances involving civilians and decided to bring out a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the police and forest personnel to deal with situations arising out of altercations with civilians.
The Assam government has suspended the Officer in-Charge of the Zirikinding police station and the forest range protection officer of the area. The West Karbi Anglong Superintendent of Police has been transferred.