Five Assam police personnel were killed in an exchange of fire with their Mizoram counterparts after the protracted border row between the two northeastern States took a violent turn on Monday. The clashes at the border town of Vairengte also left at least 60 persons from Assam injured.
The incident comes less than two days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with the Chief Ministers of the northeast in Meghalaya capital Shillong for resolving the inter-State boundary disputes.
- Border conflicts have happened intermittently since Mizoram was carved out of Assam as a Union Territory in 1972 (got statehood in 1987).
- Several rounds of talks between the two States since 1995 failed to resolve the border issue.
- Assam claims Mizos have been squatting in areas 1-3 km from the interstate border.
- Mizoram says Assam has been pushing its people 10-12 km inside their territory.
- Mizoram’s official stand is that the boundary should be demarcated on the basis of notification in 1875 that distinguished the Lushai Hills (erstwhile district of Assam that became Mizoram) from the plains of Cachar.
- The notification is based on the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873, which makes it obligatory for Indians beyond to possess a travel document to enter Mizoram.
- The point of conflict is another British-era notification of 1933 that Assam follows but is not acceptable to Mizoram, which says their ancestors were not consulted on this.
- Assam also has border disputes with Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
The injured included Assam’s Cachar district Superintendent of Police Nimbalkar Vaibhav Chandrakant and the officer-in-charge of Dholai police station in the district. Officials said the SP, in the intensive care unit with a bullet injury in the hip, could be airlifted to Mumbai. His personal security officer, Liton Suklabaidya, was among those killed.
“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, who also holds the Home portfolio, tweeted. In a later tweet, he revised the number of policemen killed to five.
‘CRPF post attacked’
Mizoram’s Home Minister Lalchamliana said the chain of events began at 11.30 a.m. when some 200 Assam police personnel came to the Vairengte auto-rickshaw stand and “forcibly” closed the duty post of the Central Reserve Police Force and a section of Mizoram police personnel.
The CRPF has been deployed as a neutral force at disputed stretches along the 164.6 km Assam-Mizoram border.
“The Assam police damaged some Mizoram-bound vehicles on the national highway and committed arson. They did not listen to our officials who tried to resolve the issue and lobbed tear gas shells and grenades and started firing at around 4.30 p.m.,” Mr. Lalchamliana said.
“Mizoram police responded spontaneously by firing back at the Assam police. The aggression of the Assam police started the unfortunate development. The Assam police withdrew and the duty post was handed back to the CRPF after the Union Home Minister spoke to the Chief Ministers of both the States,” he added.
Officials in Assam, however, blamed the Mizoram police and people in civilian clothes armed with telescopic rifles for the flare-up. “They opened fire,” Cachar Deputy Commissioner Keerthi Jalli said when asked what triggered the trouble.
Assam officials also said their team had gone to evict encroachers from Mizoram. Assam claims Mizos have been squatting in areas some one to three kilometres from the inter-State border while Mizoram groups claim Assam has pushed its people 10-12 km inside its territory.
As the border clash intensified on Monday, Dr. Sarma and his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga traded charges on Twitter while tagging the Prime Minister’s Office and Mr. Shah.
Pointing out that the vehicle of a Mizoram-bound couple was attacked, Mr. Zoramthanga sought Mr. Shah’s intervention. “How are you going to justify such violent acts?” he asked.
However, Dr. Sarma told his Mizoram counterpart that his officials were being threatened with violence until they “withdraw from our post”.
In another tweet, he said he spoke to Mr Zoramthanga. “I have reiterated that Assam will maintain status quo and peace between the borders of our State. I have expressed my willingness to visit Aizawl and discuss these issues if need be.”
Minor clashes were also reported in the Killing-Iongkhuli area of Assam-Meghalaya border on Monday when Assam police personnel allegedly tried to uproot electric poles erected by workers engaged by the Meghalaya Energy Corporation Limited.