Six Assam Policemen, One Civilian Die In Firing By Mizoram Police Over Inter-State Border Dispute, Amit Shah Intervenes To Broker Peace

Six Assam Policemen, One Civilian Die In Firing By Mizoram Police Over Inter-State Border Dispute, Amit Shah Intervenes To Broker PeaceOutline map of Assam and Mizoram
Snapshot
  • A festering border dispute between Assam and Mizoram turns ugly, and Amit Shah intervenes to de-escalate the situation.

A decades-old dispute between Assam and neighbouring Mizoram over a reserve forest erupted into a violent clash that left six Assam Police personnel and one civilian dead and scores injured, some of them seriously.

Tension has been brewing over the past few days with both sides accusing the other of transgressing into its territory. Both the states also deployed their own police forces along the disputed section of the border that falls in Assam’s Barak Valley and adjoining Mizoram’s Kolasib district.

Late Monday, hundreds of Mizo civilians armed with sticks, rods and lethal weapons gathered at the disputed section of the border near Vairengte, a border town that is the gateway to Mizoram.

The civilians were allegedly backed by Mizoram Police carrying light machine guns (LMGs) and other sophisticated weapons. They tried to demolish a bamboo structure in the disputed area erected by Assam to assert its claim over the territory.

That allegedly triggered a lathicharge and firing of teargas shells by Assam Police. Mizoram Police then retaliated and fired from their LMGs, killing and injuring Assam Police personnel.

Mizoram, however, claimed that the violence was sparked by Assam Police personnel entering Vairengte (the border town within Mizoram) and attacking civilians as well as demolishing some shops there.

The violence sparked a war of words on social media between Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma (see this) and his Mizoram counterpart Pu Zoramthanga (see this) with both accusing each other's police forces of provoking the violence.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who was in Meghalaya and Assam last weekend, intervened early in the evening to de-escalate the volatile situation. He spoke to both Sarma and Zoramthanga and asked them to withdraw their police forces from the disputed areas along the inter-state border.

Following his intervention, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) has been deployed to maintain order there. The police forces of both the states have moved back, but tension prevails and civilians from both sides are still moving around with arms.

Shah asked the two chief ministers to sit together and resolve the dispute immediately. Sarma and Zoramthanga are likely to meet very soon.

At a meeting in Shillong where the chief ministers of most North Eastern states were present, the Union Home Minister asked them to resolve border disputes amicably.

He pointedly requested both the Assam and Mizoram CMs to sit and resolve the dispute. Both had publicly declared that they would do so. In fact, senior officers of both the states were already holding talks when the violence erupted.

The disputed area that both Assam and Mizoram lay claim to is a 1,318 square kilometre reserve forest that was notified in 1875 by the British under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873 that restricted movement from other parts of British India into tribal areas.

The forest was notified as a ‘restricted area’ that falls within the Lushai Hills (present-day Mizoram). After Independence, the Lushai Hills became a district in Assam. It became a Union Territory in 1972 and attained full statehood in 1987 following the Mizo Accord, 1986.

However, a Survey of India map of 1933 puts the reserve forest within Assam. Assam relies on this document to claim that the reserve forest is part of that state.

The forest has been encroached upon by both Mizos and the people of Assam, who have cleared some tracts to set up farmlands. Mizos collect forest produce and have also started plantations in some parts of the disputed forest.

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