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India Declares Border State a 'Disturbed Area' as Botched Army Ambush Triggers Outrage

Sputnik News

Dhairya Maheshwari

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) allows the Indian military to shoot to kill or carry out searches without warrants in those regions classified as a "disturbed area" by the federal Home Ministry. The act also bestows legal immunity to the forces for their actions in these areas.

The Indian Home Ministry on Thursday declared the northeastern state of Nagaland a "disturbed area" and extended the army's special powers in the region by another six months.

"... the whole of the state of Nagaland is in such a disturbed and dangerous condition that the use of armed forces in aid of the civil power is necessary", said the Home Ministry gazette, thus extending the federal Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state by another six months beginning today (30 December).

The AFSPA has been in place in Nagaland since it acquired statehood in 1963. It was last extended by a period of six months in June of this year.

The state of Nagaland has been grappling with a secessionist insurgency for decades. In fact, the Naga insurgency has been dubbed India's oldest.

The AFSPA is viewed as necessary for the military to effectively operate in insurgency-hit areas of the nation.

The federal decision to extend the AFSPA for another six months comes after Nagaland State Chief Neiphiu Rio, a political ally of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced at a press conference on Sunday, 26 December, that the Narendra Modi government had constituted a high-level committee to look into the repeal of the AFSPA from the entire northeastern region, and not just Nagaland.

"We are Indians and India is the biggest democratic country in the world. AFSPA is a draconian law and should be removed from our country. Many laws can be handled. But this law has blackened the image of our country. This is my opinion", Rio said.

Anger against the 50s-era AFSPA reignited in Nagaland and neighbouring states after an ambush laid against separatist militants from the Nationalist Social Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K Yung faction) by the Indian Army's 21st Para Special Forces in the Mon district on 4 December went wrong and resulted in the deaths of six villagers.

After the firing incident, local villagers clashed with the army over the botched ambush operation, leading to the deaths of seven more locals and one soldier.

On 5 December, clashes erupted again between the army and local residents, which led to the death of one civilian.

Overall, the ambush and the subsequent violence resulted in the deaths of 14 civilians and one Indian Army soldier.

Carving out a separate homeland for the Nagas, a potential territory comprising even parts of Myanmar, has been a longstanding demand of the rebel groups in the state.

Gov't Clarification on Violence

Meanwhile, federal Home Minister Amit Shah said in a parliamentary statement on 6 December that the ambush was a case of "mistaken identity" and also announced the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the incident.

Shah claimed in his statement that the army asked the truck carrying the killed people to stop just before the ambush took place around 4:30 p.m. on 4 December, but it sped away which led to the firing by the forces.

Protests and Political Criticism

Protests have been taking place in Nagaland since the incidents, with even allies of the Modi government slamming Shah for "twisting" the facts during his parliamentary statement.

Temjen Imma Along, who heads the Nagaland chapter of the BJP, has said that the whole affair is "tantamount to war crimes during peace time and amounts to summary execution as well as genocide".

The Naga People's Front (NPF) later stated that the "heartless" act by the Indian Armed Forces is meant to "provoke the peace-loving people of Nagaland".

"We have visited the ambush site. There is no question of any vehicle going at more than 10 kilometres per hour speed; the road is so bad. No vehicle can flee from there. Also, there are bullet holes in the windshield of the vehicle. How can someone be shot from the front if he was fleeing?", the Nationalist People's Party (NPP), an ally of the BJP in Nagaland's neighbour Meghalaya, has claimed.

The federal opposition party Congress has meanwhile demanded the resignation of Home Minister Shah over the incident and for "lying" about the events in the Parliament.

© Sputnik

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