Nagaland Killings Prompt Demands to Repeal AFSPA in the Northeast
By: Rishabh Negi
Following the killing of 14 villagers as part of a botched military operation at Oting village in Nagaland’s Mon district, the demand to repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) has, once again, gained footing in the region with Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio leading the charge.
The AFSPA gives the military sweeping powers to search and arrest, open fire if they deem it necessary for “the maintenance of public order”, and do so with a degree of immunity from prosecution.
The Konya Union, which represents the Konyak Naga Tribe – to which most of the killed civilians belonged – is the chief backer to the demand. The group had sent a memorandum of demands to the government.
The first demand is to immediately set up an independent inquiry committee under a competent investigating agency and that at least two members of this investigation team must be from Naga civil society.
Their second demand is that all Army personnel involved must be booked and punished under the law of the land and that details of action taken against Army personnel be put out in the public domain within 30 days.
They have also demanded the immediate withdrawal of Assam Rifles from the Mon district and repeal of the AFSPA from the entire Indian Northeast.
Chemwang Konyak, whose son Shomwang Konyak was among the 14 civilians killed in the firing, told The Indian Express that he was not blaming the government, the police or the armed forces. “But we want the commander responsible, the major who led the operation, to be identified and punished,” he added.
On Saturday evening, a unit of the Assam Rifles mistakenly opened fire at a pick-up van carrying coal miners from the Tiru area to the Oting village, killing six on board. They believed the group of workers were insurgents.
As word of the ambush got out, residents set the Army’s vehicles ablaze. “As they fled, the soldiers shot dead seven more civilians,” Nyawang Konyak, the president of the Mon district unit of the BJP, alleged before the media. In the ensuing chaos, one soldier was lynched to death.
In a statement on Sunday, the Army said that “Assam Rifles personnel had launched the security operation based on “credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents” and expressed regret for the “unfortunate loss of lives”
The statement further irked the villagers at Oting, and they mobbed outside and broke into a camp of the Assam Rifles to protest against Saturday’s killing. The military personnel opened fire once again, killing one more civilian.
On Monday, under CM Rio, the BJP majoritarian Nagaland government officially began the demand to repeal AFSPA. “Nagaland and the Naga people have always opposed AFSPA. It must be repealed,” Rio said to ANI. He has been supported by all major Opposition parties in Delhi and other ruling governments in the Northeast region.
Meanwhile, the Nagaland state police, in a suo moto FIR, have registered murder cases against 21 Para special forces of the Indian Army. Police told NDTV that the special Army unit had not informed the police nor taken any police guide for the “counter-insurgency operation” in the Mon district that borders Myanmar. Moreover, they said that no arms or ammunition were recovered from the truck that the Army had shot at in the investigation that followed.
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