In one of the most serious incidents of cross-border tension in the North East in recent times, five people from Meghalaya and one from Assam were killed early today morning after police from the neighbouring state opened fire on a crowd of villagers during a dispute at Mukroh, West Jaintia Hills.
According to official reports, a truck carrying timber was pursued by the Assam forest guards and Assam police deep into Meghalaya, finally halting at Mukroh village.This took place around dawn. Villagers then began getting caught up in the incident as they began going to their farms. A larger crowd then gathered, some of whom were armed with bamboo poles. The two sides squared off and argued with each other before the situation rapidly got out of hand and the Assam police resorted to firing live rounds.
Five Meghalayans were killed in the shooting, with one Assam forest personnel also shot dead. Several dozen rounds were fired, as could be heard from amateur footage of the incident.
The Meghalaya government quickly took the decision to suspend and then cancel all official functions, including the ongoing Shillong Cherry Blossom Literary Festival and upcoming Cherry Blossom Music Festival, among others. The government also decided to immediately pay Rs 5 lakh as ex-gratia compensation to the families of the deceased men, who were identified by the Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma as Thal Shadap (45), Nikasi Dhar (65), Sik Talang (55), Tal Nartiang (40) and Chirup Sumer (40).
Meghalaya police were present at the scene of the incident but they were outnumbered by those of Assam, the CM said.
Fearing a law and order breakdown in Meghalaya, mobile internet services were later suspended for 48 hours in Khasi-Jaintia Hills.
The CM also met with traditional headmen, religious leaders and civil society representatives to appeal for calm and to assure them that the Meghalaya government will pursue justice for the victims rigorously.
The “inhuman” act, as Sangma described it, comes at a time when the governments of Meghalaya and Assam are pursuing an agreement that would resolve their age-old border dispute. Ironically, Mukroh is not in dispute yet still led to death and destruction, the likes of which have not been seen since the Langpih firing incident (in a disputed area) in May 2010, which resulted in four deaths.
Sangma had a conversation with his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma, who informed that the officer in charge of Zirikinding police station, who was involved in the incident, has been suspended, the Forest Range Protection Officer in charge of the area and who was a part of the incident has been suspended and the Superintendent of Police of West Karbi Anglong has been transferred.
“The state government strongly condemned the incident where the Assam police and Assam forest guard entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked violence. The government of Meghalaya will take all steps possible to ensure that justice is done and action is taken against all those responsible for the inhuman act,” Sangma added.
He will travel to Mukroh tomorrow to hand over the compensation directly and meet the bereaved families. Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui reached the village today.
It was later announced after a cabinet meeting that the CM will meet with Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi on Thursday to press for a NIA or CBI investigation. A report will also be submitted to the National Human Rights Commission.
An FIR has already been filed locally and a special investigation team (SIT) will be set up to begin probing the incident until the central government team can take over. A judicial inquiry will also be constituted.