Six killed in violence on disputed Assam-Meghalaya border

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    Guwahati/ Shillong, Nov 22 (PTI) Six people, including a forest guard, were killed in violence at the disputed Assam-Meghalaya border in the early hours of Tuesday after a truck allegedly laden with illegally felled timber was intercepted by forest guards from Assam.
    Apprehending law and order situation following the incident, Meghalaya has suspended mobile internet services in seven districts, while the Assam Police has sounded alert in the border districts and also ordered an inquiry by a retired high court judge into the matter.
    In a tweet tagging Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Assam Chief Minister Himanta Sarma, Meghalaya CM Conrad Sangma, whose party is an ally of the BJP, complained that the Assam police and forest guards "entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing".
    Assam Police officials, however, asserted that the truck was intercepted in West Karbi Anglong district of the state by a forest department team and a mob from Meghalaya had later attacked the forest guards and policemen from the state, which led to firing by the Assam side to bring the situation under control.
    Five of the six killed at "Mukroh village in West Jaintia Hills district" were Meghalaya residents and one is an Assam Forest Guard, Sangma said.
    The Meghalaya CM announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of the deceased individuals.
    He also said that a team of state ministers will meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah on November 24 to seek a central agency probe into the matter.
    The delegation will also be submitting a report on the incident to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in New Delhi, Sangma said.
    "We will appeal to the Centre for a CBI or NIA probe into the case. As of now, an SIT will be formed to look into the case,” he said, following a cabinet meeting.
    "The Meghalaya government strongly condemns the incident where the Assam Police & Assam Forest Guards entered Meghalaya & resorted to unprovoked firing. GoM will take all steps to ensure that justice is served & action is taken against those responsible for this inhuman act," he said on the social media platform.
The Assam government, too, said that it will hand over the investigation into the firing incident to a central or neutral agency and provide Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of the six deceased as ex-gratia.
    In a statement, the Assam government also said it has ordered action against several police and forest officials, including transfer of the district superintendent of police.
    The two states have a longstanding dispute in 12 areas along the 884.9-km-long inter-state border and the location where the incident took place is one of them.
    West Karbi Anglong Superintendent of Police Imdad Ali, who was later transferred, told PTI that the Assam forest department team intercepted and stopped the timber-laden truck at Mukroh area around 3 am.
    As the truck tried to flee, the forest guards fired at it and deflated a tyre. The vehicle's driver and handyman and another person were then apprehended, though others managed to escape, he said.
    Police reinforcements were rushed to the spot when the forest guards contacted Zirikending police station. After the police reached the spot, a large number of people from Meghalaya armed with 'daos' (daggers) and other weapons gathered at the spot around 5 am, the officer said.
    The mob attacked the forest guards and the police personnel, demanding immediate release of those arrested, which prompted the police to resort to firing to bring the situation under control, Ali said.
    "A forest home guard and three persons from the Khasi community of Meghalaya were killed in the incident. The situation is under control now," the SP said.
    Initially, four people were killed and later two others succumbed to their injuries, another top police official said in Guwahati.
    He also said the three persons arrested by Assam Police have been handed over to Meghalaya as a "confidence-building measure" following discussions between top civil and police administration of the two adjoining districts.
    "The forest guard was killed by members of the mob with sharp weapons, who also snatched away his rifle. It was then that the Assam side had to fire to control the situation," the official, who wished not to be named, said.
    He added that the body of the forest guard was taken by Meghalaya Police and will be returned after post-mortem examination.
    The Meghalaya government has suspended mobile internet services in West Jaintia Hills, East Jaintia Hills, East Khasi Hills, Ri Bhoi, Eastern West Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills and South West Khasi Hills districts for 48 hours from 10.30 am on Tuesday.
    A police official in Assam said that superintendents of police in the state have been told to keep a strict watch on any possible law and order situation.
    The two northeastern states had signed a memorandum of understanding in March this year in the presence of Shah in New Delhi towards ending the dispute in six areas.
    Meghalaya was carved out of Assam in 1972 and had since then challenged the Assam Reorganisation Act, 1971, which is recognised by Assam as its border. PTI SSG JOP SOM JRC SSG NN

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)