Toll rises to six in violence on disputed Assam-Meghalaya border
Guwahati/ Shillong, Nov 22 (PTI) Six persons, including a forest guard, were killed in violence at the disputed Assam-Meghalaya border in the early hours of Tuesday after a truck allegedly laden with illegally felled timber was intercepted by forest guards from Assam.
In a tweet tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam CM Himanta Sarma, Meghalaya’s Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, whose party is an ally of the BJP, complained that the Assam police and forest guards “entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing”.
Assam Police officials however said the truck was intercepted in West Karbi Anglong district of the state by a state Forest department team and a mob from the Meghalaya side had later attacked the team of forest guards and policemen from the state, which led firing by the Assamese side to control the situation.
Five of the six killed at “Mukroh village in West Jaiñtia Hills District … were Meghalaya residents and one is from the Assam Forest Guard,” Sangma said. The Assam police however placed the figure at 4, including a forest guard.
“The Meghalaya Government strongly condemns the incident where the Assam Police & Assam Forest Guards entered Meghalaya & resorted to unprovoked firing. GoM will take all steps to ensure that justice is served & action is taken against those responsible in this inhuman act,” he said on the social media platform.
The Meghalaya chief minister also tweeted “I also appeal to our citizens to maintain peace and harmony in the State. The State Government is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that law and order is maintained.” The two states’ have a long disputed border. While talks have resolved part of the dispute, certain sections still remain properly un-demarcated.
West Karbi Anglong superintendent of police Imdad Ali told PTI that the Assam forest department team intercepted and stopped the truck at Mukru area within his district carrying the illegal timber towards West Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya around 3 am.
As the truck tried to flee, the forest guards fired at it and deflated a tyre. The vehicle's driver and handyman and another person were then apprehended, though others managed to escape, he said.
Police reinforcements were rushed to the spot when the forest guards contacted Zirikending police station. After the police reached the spot, a large number of people from Meghalaya armed with 'daos' (daggers) and other weapons gathered at the spot around 5 am, the officer said.
The mob `gheraoed’ (surrounded) the forest guards and the police personnel demanding immediate release of those arrested and attacked them which prompted the police to resort to firing to bring the situation under control, Ali said.
"A forest home guard and three persons from the Khasi community of Meghalaya were killed in the incident. The situation is under control now," the SP said, adding that top officers of the district have rushed to the remote area.
It is not clear whether the casualties, including the forest guard named Bidyasing Lekhte, died of bullet injuries or from injuries inflicted by other weapons.
Sangma also announced an ex gratia compensation of Rs 5 Lakh each for the next of kin the deceased individuals. “The Cabinet will sit today to decide on the next course of action which the Government will take with regards to this incident,” he tweeted.
He also announced that a meeting with Rangbah Shnongs (traditional heads) and religious leaders, members of civil society and NGOs is being called to discuss, inform and appeal for their support to stand together.
Meanwhile, a police official said in Guwahati that an alert has been sounded in all districts bordering Meghalaya and their police as been asked to remain vigilant.
“All superintendents of police of districts along Meghalaya have been told to keep a strict watch on any possible law and order situation. But there is no restriction on movement of vehicles or people along the inter-state border,” he added.
Police check points have been erected in Jorabat area of Guwahati through which most vehicles enter Meghalaya through Ri-Bhoi district.
Vehicles with Assam registration numbers are being advised not to go across the border into Meghalaya as there were fears that tension may spread to various parts the neighbouring state, sources said.
Assam and Meghalaya have a longstanding dispute in 12 stretches of borderlands. The two north eastern states had signed a memorandum of understanding in March this year in the presence of Shah in New Delhi to end the dispute in six of them.
Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972 and had since then challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971, which is recognized by Assam as its border. PTI SSG JOP SOM JRC JRC