Kohima/Guwahati/New Delhi, Dec 5 : At least 11 civilians were gunned down by security forces in Nagaland's Mon district, police said on Sunday, adding that it is investigating whether the incident was a case of mistaken identity.
Ordering a Court of Inquiry into the incident, Army said that 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 exact number of fatalities, however, is yet to be ascertained as 11 people died on the spot, and several others succumbed to their injuries in hospitals in neighbouring Assam, a police officer said.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio promised a high-level probe into the incident and appealed to all sections of the society to maintain peace.
The incident took place between Oting and Tiru villages when some daily-wage labourers were returning home in a pick-up van from a coal mine on Saturday evening, the police officer said.
The vehicle was allegedly fired upon by Army personnel, who were conducting an operation in the area after receiving inputs on the movement of militants of Yung Aung faction of proscribed outfit NSCN (K), he said.
An investigation is underway to ascertain whether the incident was a case of mistaken identity, the officer said.
Mon shares a porous international border with Myanmar, where the Yung Aung faction of NSCN (K) is based.
The situation is under control and police is conducting spot verification, he said.
Official sources said Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Army Chief Gen M M Naravane have been briefed about the incident.
"Based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents, a specific operation was planned to be conducted in the area of Tiru, Mon District, Nagaland. The incident and its aftermath are deeply regretted. The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law," a statement issued by the headquarters of the Army's 3 Corps said.
"The security forces have suffered severe injuries in the incident including one soldier who succumbed to the injuries," it added.
Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio condemned the incident and assured that it will be investigated.
"The unfortunate incident leading to killing of civilians at Oting, Mon is highly condemnable. Condolences to the bereaved families & speedy recovery of those injured. High level SIT will investigate & justice delivered as per the law of the land. Appeal for peace from all sections," he tweeted.
Deputy Chief Minister Yanthungo Patton promised that justice will be delivered.
"Oting's (Mon) disturbing and tragic incident in which civilians were killed will be thoroughly investigated and justice will be served. Condolences to the bereaved families and prayers for the speedy recovery of the injured. In the wake of the tragedy, I urge peace from everyone!" he tweeted.
In protest against the incident, the Eastern Nagaland People's Organisaiton (ENPO) urged the six tribes of the region to withdraw participation from the ongoing Hornbill Festival, which is the state's biggest tourism extravaganza.
"While expressing deep sorrow and sadness over the indiscriminate firing by Indian security force where more than 10 daily wage laborers from Oting village were blatantly killed, the ENPO vehemently condemn the barbaric act of the security force," a release issued the organisation said.
The ENPO asked the six tribes to hoist black flags in their respective Morungs at Hornbill Festival venue Naga Heritage Village in Kisama near the state capital against the incident.
"It has to be understood by all concerned that this order/move is not against the State Govt., but to show resentment against the security forces who have committed this heinous crime, and to show solidarity of the 6 tribes," it said.
Abu Mehta, advisor to the chief minister, said that two minutes' silence will be observed and prayers will be held at Kisama for those killed in the incident.