Police has arrested six alleged cattle smugglers for killing three people in a remote Meghalaya village in West Jaintia Hills district close to Bangladesh border said to be a key route for smuggling of cattle into the neighbouring country.Police said the victims, which includes a village headman were returning to their village Amlanai and were accosted midway at Trangblang and assaulted with lethal weapons on July 6. The incident came to light only on Sunday night.“We have seized blood-stained clothes from the accused persons and have sent them for forensic tests to confirm their guilt,” West Jaintia Hills district SP Vivek Syiem told HT over the phone from Jowai, the district headquarters. “We will not spare them, they will be dealt as per the law,” he assured.Village headman Thomlin Surong, village secretary Hamboi Langshiang and another village member Shan Khongiong were killed on the spot while the three critically injured were admitted at Jowai Civil Hospital, Syiem said.The six suspects in the crime are George Manner, Ross Manner, Lasawki Manner, William Carey Manner, Namdi Manner and Khamtilang Myrlia. They are presently in police custody.According to local villagers, the reasons behind the cold-blooded murders go back a few days, when George Manner, was apprehended by the headman and other residents for trespassing through the village with cattle meant to be smuggled into Bangladesh.Manner was allegedly assaulted by the villagers but was rescued by police. An FIR was filed against the village headman and others on July 4. Apart from this incident, the villagers also said that land could also be a reason for the killings, as the Manner clan claims ownership of the Amlanai villagers’ land and a court case is ongoing regarding the community forest around the village.The incident brings focus back on cattle smuggling in Meghalaya, where selling beef is legally allowed as against most of mainland India.Security officials said cattle smuggling was a major source of income for several clans in the state driven by higher beef price in Bangladesh than in Meghalaya. A full-grown cow in Meghalaya could cost around Rs 30,000, but during the festive season a cow could fetch more than 3.5 times of the local price, an official said.The Border Security Force (BSF) had seized more than 10,300 heads of cattle in 2017. However, the number fell to 2,500 in the first six months of this year. Close to 90% of the cattle was seized from East Khasi Hills and West Jaintia Hills, according to data provided by the BSF. L Mohanti, BSF Inspector General of the Meghalaya frontier, says that demand for beef, and correspondingly the smuggling of cattle, increases during the holy month of Ramadan.The lure of these illegal profits is having negative consequences in Meghalaya, with Generous Warlarpih, the Vice-President of the Khasi Jaintia Butchers’ Welfare Association, telling HT that “if not for this illegal activity, the price of beef here would be the same as pork and chicken, that is around Rs 240-250 per kilo,” instead of the current Rs 300. He also warned that the cost could hit Rs 400 per kilo unless there is government intervention to curb smuggling.The police, however, said there were some incidents of clashes between locals and cow smugglers but this was the first major incident of killings by so-called cow smugglers.