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What happened on July 26- An account from disputed site of Assam-Mizoram border conflict

SILCHAR: Lailapur is a small, green, and a rather pretty village located about 355 km from Guwahati. The village resembles thousands of other villages in this region, but over the past few weeks, it has caught the attention of national journalists, administrators, and political observers. Situated alongside the 509 km Inner-line Reserve Forest, Lailapur in Cachar district is the last village in the disputed land of Assam-Mizoram border, and at the helm of the latest tensions between the two states.

Three districts of Assam –Cachar, Karimganj, and Hailakndi share a 165.6km long border with districts of Kolasib, Aizawl, and Mamit in Mizoram.

The Cachar border has remained tense over the past one week since border disputes between the states took a bloody turn on July 26, when six Assam police personnel and one civilian died in a clash with Mizoram Police. According to Mizoram Police, a team of over 200 Assam police personnel came inside the claimed territory of Mizoram in Kolasib district and tried to evict a police camp.

Since then Lailapur has been witnessing the rush of high officials of Assam police, the district administration, and politicians, and also from neutral forces like Central Reserve Police Force. It is also the last spot where anyone from the Assam side is allowed to go.

Assam Mizoram border clash
Lailapur Police Patrol Post in Lailapur village in Cachar

Vairengte: A tale of bloodshed between two brothers:

6.3km from Lailapur Police Patrol Post, there lies the Vairengte town in Kolasib district. Vairengte has over ten thousand population (according to the latest census) mostly dominated by the Lushai tribe and few from the Bengali community. With a CRPF camp and two Mizoram Police camps, Vairengte is the exact site that saw one of the deadliest Inter-state border conflicts in recent history.

InsideNE is the first media organization from the Northeast that could visit the disputed area of Vairengte after the bloodshed under the claimed Mizoram territory.  A team of InsideNE managed to meet higher officials of Mizoram Police, local people, and NGOs in Vairengte to get a perspective on how Mizoram sees the latest turn of events.

Assam-Mizoram border clash
The other side of Lailapur- road leading to Vairengte

Upon reaching Vairengte, the team of InsideNE was led to the CRPF camp where Shahnawaz Khan, DIGP (GC) of Central Reserve Police Force was sitting with Huliana Fanai, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Mizoram and Vanlalfaka Ralte, Superintendent of Police of Kolasib district.
Shahnawaz Khan was busy trying to understand the locations of the Mizo Police camps in the border areas while Huliana Fanai was discussing with SP Ralte on ways to keep the tension under control.

Assam Mizoram border clash
Vairengte- the site of conflict in claimed Mizoram territory

Who shot first?

Narrating the clash on July 26, Vanlalfaka Ralte, Superintendent of Police of Kolasib district showed the exact place and the chronology of the incident to InsideNE.

“On that particular day, more than 200 forces of Assam Police led by Anurag Agarwal IGP (TAP) suddenly came and overran the only 20 police personnel who were here in this camp. When I got to know I came down and tried to negotiate with the IGP. I said this is our police camp and if you throw us out there will be consequences and this will not be very good for the peace and tranquillity of the region. What happened is they just pushed us out of the camp. Our police also came down. When the villagers got to know about this they came down and started pelting stones at the Assam police because they were angry that their police were thrown out from their camps.” Ralte said.

Vanlalfaka Ralte, Superintendent of Police of Kolasib district
Vanlalfaka Ralte, Superintendent of Police of Kolasib district shows the site of violence to InsideNE

He alleged that more than 20-30 vehicles of Assam police with prefabricated tent structures and ambulances came to occupy the land which he claimed to belong to Mizoram. He said the public started becoming very violent, though Mizoram Police tried to control them.

“Meanwhile the Assam police fired tear gas shells, stun grenades trying to disperse the people. They fired tear gas and stun grenades at Mizoram police as well. We had to take shelter somewhere here and there.” He said.

Ralte said that while all this was going on, he got a call from Cachar SP Nimbalkar Vaibhav Chandrakant requesting a talk. He claimed that while he was in a discussion between him and the SP of Cachar, a reinforcement team of about 50 Assam Police personnel entered the area.

“I was with my Deputy Commandant, the Additional Superintendent of Police, and my PSOs. There were six of us. While all of us were sitting and talking (with SP Cachar and IGP) near that post to negotiate and to find a reasonable solution for this (border dispute), so many reinforcements (of Assam Police) came. I cannot count but it would be more than 50. The public also started coming down from the Assam side. The public both from Lailapur and Vairengte started pelting stones at each other. And things became worse. I was still here talking with the IG and all of a sudden, the Assam police shot at the Mizoram people. Then we also retaliated. I had to take the protection and so I ran towards that (pointing towards the CRPF camp). If I didn’t run, I would have been shot. Along with my team, I ran towards the CRPF camp and sought protection there but they refused. So I was left in the open air. I had to lie down on the floor in the open air. Thankfully I was not spotted because if I had been spotted I don’t know what would have happened. After 30-40, minute-ceasefire happened and we let Assam police take away the injured police personnel and those bodies – victims of unfortunate death.”

Ralte said it was Assam police who started the gunfire.

“I was sitting with the IG. My men will never open fire without my permission. So it is obvious that Assam Police shot first, “He stressed.

 

What does the Assam police claim?

The Assam counterpart has also confirmed to InsideNE that on that very day of July 26, Assam police went inside the disputed territory intending to evict the Mizoram police camp that it claims to be built up inside the inner Line Reserve Forest inside the Assam territory.

Dr Ramandeep Kaur, who took charge as the new Superintendent of Police of Cachar district after the incident said, “Inner line Reserve Forest as per the Forest Act of India, and according to the direction of the Supreme Court of India is the part where there are no built-up areas like settlements, roads, etc. It’s a place whose sanctity needs to be maintained as a reserve forest. But in the past few years from the Mizoram side, they (encroachers) started making constructions in this part of the reserve forest. Last year also they were tried to be evicted from the reserve forest but it was not very successful. But it had to be tried again this time.”

Ramandeep Kaur
Ramandeep Kaur claims Mizoram Police opened fire first

She claimed that while Assam IGP (TAP), Anurag Agarwal was in talks with SP of Kolasib district during the process of eviction, Mizoram police opened fire at Assam police.

“We were still in the talks with the Mizoram side. IGP (TAP), and SP of Kolasib were talking and suddenly SP of Kolasib got a call from somewhere and he just left the place. The IGP from Assam was probably still waiting for him to come back when the unprovoked firing from Mizoram started. It’s a ruthless kind of act which was done by Mizoram.

She further stated that as per the demarcation by the Survey of India, the Inner-line Reserve Forest falls within the constitutional boundary of Assam.

“It’s a very pertinent point that there has to be no build-up area in the Inner-line Reserve Forest. There were camps inside the reserve forest that needed to be evicted and that was also the Divisional Forest Officer’s concern. So the Divisional Forest Officer requisitioned Assam police because eviction from the forest required security. The Deputy Commissioner of Cachar was also there at the spot for the eviction process. As it was a reserve forest, the eviction was not done forcefully. Talks were going on with them and they were asked to move back.

She also claimed that the Mizo police were using Light Machine Guns (LMGs) upon the Assam counterpart.

“It was unprovoked and unprecedented. Never expected that they would start firing – of the sort that they would use LMGs.”

An eye witness account from Vairengte

34-year-old Lianthangpuia, a member of the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and a resident of Vairengte showed the team of InsideNE the exact locations where he claimed Assam police parked over 20 vehicles to carry over 200 police personnel to Vairengte. A bus bearing the registration number of Assam was also seen parked along the camp area which he claimed was used as a cover during the shootout by Assam police.

Bus used by Assam Police
A bus Mizoram Police claims to have used by Assam Police as a cover during July 26 shootout

Lianthangpuia said he was exactly on the site of violence on July 26. He said that day he was coming to meet the SP of Kolasib district to obtain a travel pass for Shillong.

Referring to some videos that he claimed to record during the shootout, he said “I have seen with my own eyes that the Assam police came with huge forces along with ambulances as well. They also brought piles of bricks to help the civilians (from the Assam side) to pelt on the Mizoram police. From the Mizoram side, villagers also came down. I have seen the higher officials asking Assam Police to retreat. I have a video to substantiate the fact that the Mizoram police gave Assam Police five minutes to leave the place. But Assam police started firing.”

Photo of Lianthangpuia

He also showed InsideNE three piles of broken bricks which he claims to have brought by the Assam police.

On the site of the violence, two half-burnt vehicles were also seen lying upside down which SP Ralte claimed to belong to Assam Police.

half burnt bus in Mizoram Police camp area
A half burnt vehicle of Assam Police near site of violence

How to solve a century-old conflict?

The border conflict between Assam and Mizoram can be traced back to 1875 when the British issued a notification to demarcate Lushai Hills (Present Mizoram) from the Cachar plains. In 1933, it came up with another notification where the demarcation between Mizoram and Manipur was done.

However, Lushai Hills and adjoining regions were administered by the Cachar district administration till the end of colonial rule. In 1972, Mizoram became a Union territory and then became a state in 1987. Since then Mizoram has been insisting on border demarcation as per the 1875 notification while Assam wants the border demarcated in 1086 as per the notification of 1933.

The need of the hour is to have a mutually agreed border demarcation between the states. The maps which the states use to claim the territories are not mutually agreed upon. The Mizos claim that they abide by the 1875 demarcation. They claim that the 1986 border demarcation was not consulted with the Mizo Civil Society.

ALSO READ: Assam-Mizoram Border Clash: Officers Summon Each Other; FIR Against Assam CM

 

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