Boundary violence: Police could have fired fewer shots, says Assam CM

The Hindu

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Boundary violence: Police could have fired fewer shots, says Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Wednesday said the Assam police and forest personnel could have fired fewer shots during a confrontation with villagers from Meghalaya on November 22.

Five villagers and a forest guard from Assam – all males – were killed in the firing that Sarma and his Meghalaya counterpart Conrad K. Sangma termed unprovoked. The incident took place in a disputed sector that Assam calls Mukhrow in West Karbi Anglong district while Meghalaya refers to as Mukroh in West Jaiñtia Hills district.

“I believe the Assam police did not have to fire that many shots. I felt it was a little unprovoked,” Sarma told journalists in Delhi on Wednesday.

He said he has spoken with Sangma three to four times since Tuesday and insisted neither State was viewing the incident as a battle of prestige. It was not a border dispute but the outcome of a clash between the Meghalaya locals and the forest guards of Assam, he added.

“The villagers (from Meghalaya) were angry when our forest guards intercepted a timber-laden vehicle and took three persons into custody. When the Assam police went to bring the vehicle, the villagers confronted the personnel,” Sarma said.

He said the Assam government favoured a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation or the National Investigation Agency. The Meghalaya government has made a similar plea to the Centre.

On Wednesday, Sangma and some of his Cabinet colleagues visited the houses of the five deceased villages and offered ex-gratia of ₹5 lakh to each family.

“The Assam government has agreed to cooperate in the investigation we want a central agency to undertake,” he said, attributing “all problems on the boundary” to the 50-year-old border dispute between the two States.

“We are all angry after what happened yesterday (November 22) but violence cannot be the solution. We will ensure that the border issue, which is the crux of all tensions building up, is resolved at the earliest. We will take all steps to ensure that such an incident does not recur,” he said.

Sangma also said a high-level team will leave for New Delhi on Thursday to apprise Home Minister Amit Shah and other central leaders of the incident and its background.

The day also saw the Trinamool Congress, eyeing power in the poll-bound Meghalaya, file a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission against the Assam Forest guards for using “unprovoked lethal force” against unarmed Scheduled Tribe persons who were “exercising their constitutional right to forest produce within the borders of Meghalaya”.

Meanwhile, there were some stray incidents of attacks on Assam-registered vehicles in Meghalaya. An SUV was torched in State capital Shillong on Tuesday night followed by stone-pelting at other vehicles.

Hundreds of tourists and tourist vehicles from Assam are stranded in Shillong and other places of Meghalaya. Apprehending a backlash, the drivers refrained from driving back to Assam, members of a tourist vehicle operators’ body in Guwahati said.

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