Security forces in Nagaland on Saturday opened fire on civilians twice – once in a botched up operation and the second time during the rioting that followed -- killing 14.
In the first firing, which killed six civilians, army personnel mistook coal mine workers who were singing songs and returning home in a pick-up van as insurgents belonging to the Yung Aung faction of a banned outfit – the NSCN (K).
The Army was purportedly acting on a tip-off about the movement of the NSCN (K) cadres, which proved to be incorrect.
When the slain workers failed to reach their homes, local youth and villagers went in search of them and surrounded the army vehicles. In the ensuing melee, one soldier was killed and several army vehicles were burnt. Soldiers who reportedly fired in self-defence killed another seven civilians, said police officials.
The riots spilled over into Sunday afternoon when angry mobs vandalised the offices of the Konyak Union and an Assam Rifles camp in the area.
The Nagaland government, through a notification, has banned mobile, internet and data services as well as bulk SMS in the district, to curb "circulation of inflammatory videos, pictures or text".
The police said that the post-mortem of the 13 killed is being conducted and feared that the number of fatalities may increase as at least two of those injured were critical and had to be evacuated to hospitals in Assam, while the rest were being treated in Nagaland.
Ordering a Court of Inquiry into the incident, Army said one of its personnel was killed and several others were seriously injured. It said that the incident and its aftermath is "deeply regretted" and the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level.
The state government has constituted a five-member Special Investigation Team headed by IGP Nagaland, officials said.
PRO Defence (Kohima) Lt Col Sumit K Sharma said, “Based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents, a specific operation was planned in the area of Tiru, Mon District. The incident and its aftermath is deeply regretted.”
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio promised a high-level probe into the incident and appealed to all sections of the society to maintain peace.
Mon district, where the incident happened, shares a porous international border with Myanmar, where the Yung Aung faction of the NSCN (K) is based.
Official sources said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Army Chief Gen M M Naravane have been briefed about the incident.
“The SIT shall investigate the incident from all angles while a court of inquiry has been instituted into the conduct of the army personnel involved,” Jagdish Mukhi, Governor of Assam and Nagaland said in a statement, while appealing for peace.
Home Minister Amit Shah too tweeted his anguish and expressed “deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives.’’
Reacting to the incident, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pointed out in a post on social media: "This is heart wrenching. GOI must reply. What exactly is the home ministry doing when neither civilians nor security personnel are safe in our own land?"
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee also demanded a thorough investigation and described it as a "worrisome news".
The incident has happened during the state’s signature Hornbill festival, which is the state's biggest tourism extravaganza and takes place under international media glare. The Konyak community, to which the villagers belonged, said it has been decided to abstain from any further participation in the festival. Six other tribal groups also said they will not participate.
The Chief Minister, who was in Delhi, is on way back and is likely to hold a cabinet meeting, government sources said.