Assam, Mizo CMs face off over violence at their border; 6 cops killed in clashes
Six Assam Police personnel were killed and dozens injured as a decades-long border dispute with neighbour Mizoram sparked violent clashes on Monday, prompting both chief ministers to publicly trade charges, and forcing Union home minister Amit Shah to intervene.
Violence broke out at the Assam-Mizoram border shared by Cachar district's Lailapur and Kolasib district’s Vairengte around 11.30am over allegations of encroachment. Thousands of civilians on either side of the border hurled stones and charged at each other and security personnel with sticks and rods. Visuals showed policemen firing tear-gas shell and air pellets as people torched vehicles and huts.
“I am deeply pained to inform that six brave jawans of Assam Police 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 tweeted.
Mizoram home minister Lalchamliana accused Assam Police of entering Mizoram’s territory and committing arson. “Upon learning of the arson committed by Assam Police, residents of Vairengte town, Kolasib district proceeded to the site to inquire. These unarmed civilians were assaulted by Assam Police by lathi charging them and firing tear gas, thereby causing injuries to several civilians,” read the statement.
The hostilities pared down after the chief ministers spoke on the phone. Shah also spoke to both chief ministers, asking them to resolve the border issue amicably without any violence, people familiar with developments said. Senior Union home ministry officials are closely watching the developments at the interstate border, said the people quoted above.
Officials at Silchar Medical College Hospital (SMCH) in Assam confirmed on the condition of anonymity that 36 people were admitted with injuries from air gun shots and stone pelting. Cachar superintendent of police VC Nimbalkar was in the intensive care unit. Details of injuries on the Mizoram side were not available.
The violence came two days after the chief ministers shared a stage with Shah and spoke of resolving the border dispute amicably. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in Assam and Mizoram is ruled by the Mizo National Front.
Assam’s Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi share a 164.6 km long border with Mizoram’s Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit districts. Mizoram was a part of Assam till 1972 when it became a Union Territory. It became a state in 1987. The territorial dispute has festered since then and fuelled sporadic clashes, the latest of which rocked the region in August 2020 and February 2021.
Tensions first flared up around 11.30am, when around 200 Assam Police personnel attempted to construct a camp inside Mizoram’s territory, according police. While discussions were on between police officials of the two states, a group of people from Mizoram allegedly started pelting stones, the officials said requesting anonymity. Locals on the Assam side retaliated, they added.
Senior administrative and police officials were immediately rushed to the spot but the violence worsened around 3:45 pm. Assam residents alleged tear-gas shells and air guns were fired from the Mizoram side.
“I was near border area when people from Mizoram started firing. We tried to run away but a bullet touched my right arm and I fell on ground,” 25-year-old Fajar Ali, a resident of Assam who sustained an air gun injury on his hand, said.
In a statement, Lalchamliana rejected these charges and said Assam Police personnel forcibly crossed the border post and damaged vehicles on the National Highway. CRPF officials were not immediately available for comment.
He said Assam launched a volley of tear gas canisters and grenades at Mizoram Police around 4:50 pm. “Mizoram Police responded spontaneously by firing back at Assam Police,” he said.
Mizoram said after Shah spoke to both chief ministers, Assam Police withdrew and handed the post back to the CRPF.
The clashes took a political turn at 1.50pm when Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga tweeted a video of the clashes and tagged Shah and Sarma. “Shri @AmitShah ji….kindly look into the matter. This needs to be stopped right now,” he wrote.
At 2.53pm, he tweeted a video of a couple sitting in a car with windows smashed in. “Innocent couple on their way back to Mizoram via Cachar manhandled and ransacked by thugs and goons.How are you going to justify these violent acts?” he asked.
Sarma responded four minutes later, blaming Mizoram for the flare-up.
“Honble Zoramthanga ji could you please investigate why are civilians from Mizoram holding sticks and trying to incite violence? We urge civilians to not take up law and order on their own hands and permit peaceful dialogue to take place between governments,” he tweeted, tagging Shah and the Prime Minister’s Office.
At 3.25pm, he further wrote, “ Honble @ZoramthangaCM ji , Kolasib ( Mizoram) SP is asking us to withdraw from our post until then their civilians won’t listen nor stop violence. How can we run government in such circumstances? Hope you will intervene at earliest.”
The tensions appeared to ease as evening approached. Sarma tweeted at 4.36pm that he spoke to Zoramthanga and said Assam will maintain status quo and peace along the border. “I have expressed my willingness to visit Aizawl and disscuss these issues if need be,” he said.
Zoramthanga responded minutes later. “Hon’ble @himantabiswa ji, as discussed I kindly urge that Assam Police be instructed to withdraw from Vairengte for the safety of civilians,” he said.
Assam Police said it was determined to protect Assam’s border.
“It is unfortunate that large number of miscreants from Mizoram are indulging in stone pelting and such forms of attack at Assam government officials stationed at Lailapur to protect Assam’s land from encroachment. We strongly condemn these acts of vandalism and reiterate our resolve to protect Assam’s boundary,” Assam Police tweeted from its official handle.
The Opposition condemned the violence.
“We condemn the incident of firing on Assam Police personnel from the Mizoram side as reported in media. It is a matter of disgrace that such incident took place hours after union home minister left Assam [on Sunday]. It is also a matter of concern and humour that CMs of both states are arguing on Twitter on this issue,” said Assam Congress media in-charge Bobbeeta Sharma