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New Delhi: Nagaland Police, in its preliminary report on the civilian killings has hinted at a possible cover-up of the gruesome action by security forces.
This police report accessed by The Wire comes in the aftermath of 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.
A ‘brief report’ filed by Nagaland commissioner Rovilatuo Mor and state director general of police T. John Longkumer after speaking to eyewitnesses and local residents on December 5 said, “On hearing the gunshots, villagers went to the spot, being apprehensive that the individuals did not return home from work. On reaching the spot, they found the pick-up truck and the Special Forces personnel trying to hide the dead bodies of the six villagers by wrapping and loading them in another pickup truck (Tata Mobile), apparently with the intention of taking the dead bodies to their base camp.”
The report, filed from Mon, said the killings took place around 4:10 pm on December 4 when eight villagers were returning home in a pick-up truck after working at a coal mine at the Tiru village. “…[T]hey were ambushed and killed by security forces (reportedly, the 21 Para Special Force based in Assam) at random, apparently without any attempt of identification.”
While six of them died on the spot, two others were critically injured.
The report noted that the villagers who went to the spot on hearing the gunshots “found the dead bodies in the Tata Mobile, under a tarpaulin.” On seeing a possible attempt to cover up the killings by the security forces, “violence broke out between the villagers and the security personnel.”
“As a result, the irate villagers burnt three vehicles belonging to Special Forces personnel.”
“In the melee, the security personnel again opened fire on the villagers which led to the deaths of seven more villagers. Eyewitnesses have confirmed that the Special Forces personnel opened fire indiscriminately as they fled from the scene towards the Assam side, even firing in the coal mine hutments on the way.”
The two senior state officials said, “On the secured crime site, there were a total of five vehicles – the Mahindra pick-up in which the civilians were ambushed; one burnt Scorpio, a burnt Bolero, a burnt Tata Winger and a Tata Mobile (not burnt but damaged).”
“Altogether, 13 civilians were killed on that day, 14 civilians [were] seriously injured and eight civilians [sustained] minor injuries. Two of the seriously injured persons were taken to the Assam side by the Security Forces themselves and are now admitted in the ICU at Dibrugarh Medical College and Hospital.”
The details in the state government’s preliminary report matched the statement made by the local BJP leader to Hornbill TV on the morning of December 6. Konyak told the local media house that the Security Forces fired at his car while he was trying to get information at one of the coal miner’s sheds.
All three people accompanying him were injured; later, one person died and he even saw some other villagers falling to the bullets. He escaped the attack along with a few others present at the scene. On December 5, Konyak spoke to Scroll.in about his vehicle being fired at by security forces.
Taking the investigation forward on December 6, the state police took suo motu cognisance of the killings and filed an FIR at the Tizit police station against the 21 Para Special Force. The FIR was filed on the grounds that the Security Forces violated ground rules which entail informing the local police about a counter insurgency operation and keeping the police party to it.
The FIR, seen by The Wire, stated, “It is to be noted that at the time of the incident there was no police guide, nor did security forces make requisition to police station to provide police guide for their operation. Hence it is obvious that the intention of security forces is to murder and injure civilians. (sic)”
Explaining what led to the subsequent firing by Assam Rifles at Mon town on December 5, the state government report said there was confusion about the Konyak Union holding a mass funeral for all those who had died the previous day. The Konyak Union had postponed the funeral to December 6, leading the angry mob to vandalise its office at Mon town before heading to the Assam Rifles camp nearby to attack it. An angry crowd comprising about “600-700 people” were “armed with sticks, pipes, flammable fluids and few of them had matches or daos (swords).”
The crowd set fire to three buildings at the Assam Rifles camp. Though the district administration and local police tried to pacify the crowd, the report said they were “outnumbered”.
“After almost an hour into the melee, the second round of continuous firing by the Assam Rifles resulted in the mob running for safety and protection. After the firing ceased, one protestor by the name of Leong of Chi village was confirmed to be dead on the spot and six others sustained bullet wound injuries including one IR personnel of 11th IRB, Aboi, who were shifted to district hospital.”
As per the December 5 brief report, the total death toll of civilians due to the incident and its fallout was 14. It has since risen to 15.