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SIT may get access to jawans in Nagaland op

On Wednesday, an Indian Army inquiry team could record the statements of only two witnesses to the December 4 killings.
13 civilians were killed in the ‘botched up’ operation on December 4 (ANI)
Published on Dec 30, 2021 12:17 AM IST
ByAlice Yhoshü, New Delhi

Kohima: An Indian Army team probing the killings of 13 civilians in a botched operation in Nagaland’s Mon visited the spot on Wednesday, but could question only two people, even as the force allowed a special investigation team (SIT) of police to collect statements of jawans involved in the incident, people aware of the matter said.

Protests erupted in the state after 13 civilians were killed by soldiers who appeared to have mistaken them for militants in Oting village of the district on December 4. A jawan died in retaliation by locals, and a day later, another civilian was killed when security personnel opened fire at a mob that vandalised an army camp.

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While the state government formed the SIT after the incident for a speedy probe, the army formed a court of inquiry into the incident that it called highly unfortunate.

It wasn’t immediately clear if the SIT will be able question the jawans involved in the incident or only prepared statements will be shared with the team, a government official said, asking not to be named. A date has not been decided, the official added.

On Wednesday, the army’s inquiry team could record the statements of only two witnesses – Nyawang Konyak, who is also the Mon district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and Lewang, a village guard, according to an official, who asked not to be named.

A local, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that others, including people from the village where the incident happened, refused to meet the army team. The army team was at the Tizit police station for about two hours but only two witnessed visited the facility to record their statements, the local said.

“Around 20 of them (army inquiry team) came to Tiru today where the killings took place and they took my statement along with village guard Lewang’s. I am not satisfied with their approach. I told the army team everything that transpired that day. I have also asked them to take back their statement which was presented in Parliament by (Union home minister) Amit Shah that army personnel had fired only when the vehicle in which the villagers were travelling did not stop after being signalled to,” Nyawang said.

He said he was fired at by the security forces on December 4 when he rushed to the spot after hearing that six people from his village were killed. “I was going there to pacify the situation as I heard that my villagers were very angry at the army personnel, but the army fired at my vehicle, too,” he said, adding that his driver was hit and injured.

The incident has revived public outcry in the state for the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 (Afspa), which gives security forces impunity to carry out counter-insurgency operations in the region. While the Nagaland assembly has adopted a resolution demanding the repeal of the act, the central government has also set up a panel to assess the possibility of withdrawing Afspa from the region.

The Afspa empowers security forces to conduct operations and arrest anyone without any prior warrant. It also gives immunity to the forces if they shoot someone dead.

The decision to constitute a high-level committee to review Afspa in the region was taken at a meeting chaired by Union home minister Amit Shah and attended by chief ministers of Nagaland and Assam Neiphiu Rio and Himanta Biswa Sarma on December 23

In a statement on Wednesday, the army said that its inquiry team, headed by a major general, inspected the site of the incident to understand the circumstances in which it happened. The investigation is progressing expeditiously and all efforts are being made to conclude it at the earliest, it said.

“The (army) team also took along the witnesses for better understanding of the situation and how events would have unfolded. Subsequently, the team was also present at Tizit Police Station, Mon District between 1330 to 1500 hours on 29 December 2021 to meet the cross section of the society to include civilians, police personnel and doctors who treated injured for obtaining valuable information pertaining to the incident,” public relations officer Lieutenant Colonel Sumit K Sharma said.

“It’s a confidential matter and I won’t like to comment on it,” Limasunep Jamir, Nagaland Police inspector general, who is heading the SIT said when asked if they will be allowed to question the jawans. Another official said that the army was “fully cooperating” with the SIT ordered by the state government and the required details and access were being provided.

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