More than a dozen citizens have been killed and many injured in firing by Indian forces in the northeastern state of Nagaland, triggering widespread protests and violence.
On Saturday evening, Indian forces opened indiscriminate firing between Oting and Tiru villages in Nagaland’s Mon district, which borders Myanmar, in what was reportedly intended to be a a counter-insurgency operation based on a tip.
But a vehicle crossing from the Tiru-Oting road, carrying villagers, got caught in the firing, resulting in the deaths of at least 13 civilians and one soldier. Several more are wounded and undergoing treatment.
There were more than 30 passengers in the vehicle. Most of them were daily wage workers returning from a coal mine.
“The troopers had intelligence inputs about some militant movement in the area and on seeing the truck, they mistook the miners to be rebels and opened fire, killing six labourers,” a senior police official told Reuters, requesting anonymity.
“After the news of firing spread in the village, hundreds of tribal people surrounded the camp. They burnt Assam Rifles vehicles and clashed with the troopers using crude weapons,” he said.
Members of the Assam Rifles retaliated, and in the second attack, seven more civilians and a security member were killed, the official said.
Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio appealed for peace and promised that an investigation will be conducted.
“The unfortunate incident leading to the killing of civilians at Oting, Mon, is highly condemnable. High-level SIT [special investigative team] will investigate & justice delivered as per the law of the land. Appeal for peace from all sections,” Mr Rio tweeted.
The state government has suspended mobile internet and messaging services to stop the spread of rumours and fake news or “inflammatory photos and videos”.
Indian home minister Amit Shah said he was “anguished” at the news of civilians being killed in the incident, and expressed his condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.
Opposition Congress party leader and member of parliament Rahul Gandhi sought a “real reply” from the Indian government for the “heart-wrenching” incident.
“What exactly is the home ministry doing when neither civilians nor security personnel are safe in our own land,” Mr Gandhi asked.
In a statement, the Indian Army’s 3 Corps in Nagaland said the aftermath of the incident was “deeply regretted”.
“The cause of the unfortunate loss of life is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law,” it said.
While there are several insurgent groups in Nagaland and clashes between them and the police are frequent, the civilian casualties have triggered an uproar in the area. Insurgents often cross the border to Myanmar after an attack and India has been taking up the issue with the government across the border to act against insurgents.
The demands of insurgent groups range from complete independence of the state to greater autonomy.