Border clashes between the northeastern states of Assam and Mizoram are not new, however, the one witnessed on Monday was the bloodiest. The two states are locked in a battle over their boundaries for decades, often leading to big or small clashes.
Meanwhile, the Centre has summoned to New Delhi the chief secretaries and DGPs of Assam and Mizoram for a meeting on Wednesday while the restive inter-state border was calm, a day after armed clashes left five dead and over 60 injured. Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla will chair the meeting to discuss the sudden escalation of violence along the Assam-Mizoram border. The meeting of the chief secretaries and Directors General of Police is expected to work on a peace formula so there is no repeat of such violence.
Tensions between the two states, along the border with Mizoram in Cachar and Hailakandi districts of Assam, have been escalating since October 2020 with frequent incidents of burning of houses and charges of encroachment of land by both sides. Assam’s Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi share a 164 km long border with Mizoram’s three districts of Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit.
High-level talks were held under the aegis of the Union Home Ministry on October 22, 2020. The meeting had concluded with the decision to maintain the status quo and resolve the dispute through discussions.
However, the matter flared up in February this year and since then hundreds of people have fled their homes near Gallacherra border outpost after two huts were burnt down.
After a lull, a grenade was lobbed at an Assam government team visiting the border by unknown attackers from Mizoram on July 10. Meanwhile, two back-to-back explosions were heard from across the border in the wee hours on July 11.
What is the dispute about?
There are clear boundary issues between Mizoram and Assam. Mizoram was a district of Assam before it was carved out as a union territory in 1971 after years of insurgency and the districts borders did not really matter. However, it became a state in 1987 and that’s when border issues cropped up as perceptions over where the boundary should be differed.
Now, the fault lines occur between the two northeastern states because Mizoram wants it to be along the inner line notified in 1875, which Mizo tribals feel is part of their historical homeland. But, Assam insists that it should be defined according to district demarcation done much later.
Originating from the same backdrop, things worse on Monday when violent clashes broke out along the inter-state border that ended in the death of at least five policemen, and injuries to over 60 people. The violence came just two days after Union Home Minister Amit Shah held talks with the chief ministers of eight northeastern states and underscored the need to resolve lingering border disputes. The clashes are said to have happened following allegations of encroachment of territory by both sides over the past few weeks.
According to the Assam government, a team of officials, including an IG, DIG, DC Cachar, SP Cachar and DFO Cachar, went to sort out issues related to alleged construction of a road by Mizoram towards Rengti Basti in Assam, destroying the Inner Line Reserve Forest in Lailapur area.
It said that the Mizoram side also simultaneously set up a new armed camp on a hillock next to the camp of the neutral force, CRPF, in the same vicinity. Further, it claimed that a mob from Mizoram started pelting stones and destroyed three vehicles including the DC’s car.
It said that the Mizoram police simultaneously fired tear gas shells on the delegation and the IG was injured in this barrage. In the afternoon, SP Kolasib along with two Additional SP level officers held a discussion with the Assam delegation.
“The Mizoram officials went ostensibly to talk to the mob, but the SP Kolasib returned again around 4:30 pm to state that he had no control over the mob.
“Horrifically, even while SP, Kolasib was in talks with the Assam officers, the Mizoram Police opened fire on the Assam officials and civilians, who had by then gathered there, from two dominating high features with automatic weapons, including LMGs,” the statement said.
Talking about the usage of light machine guns (LMGs), the Assam Chief Minister said, “This is sad, unfortunate and speaks volumes about the intention and gravity of the situation.”
Officials said Sarma will visit the violence-hit Assam-Mizoram border on Tuesday morning to assess the situation.
However, the Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana, in a statement, claimed Mizoram Police responded “spontaneously by firing back” at Assam Police after its 200 personnel forcibly crossed a duty post manned by the CRPF personnel and indulged in arson, assault on unarmed persons and firing. (With PTI inputs)