Assam-Mizoram border standoff: Neutral force CRPF faces flak

By PTI
AIZAWL: A day after a violent clash and exchange of fire between police forces of Assam and Mizoram left at least six people dead and over 50 injured, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployed along the disputed interstate border on Tuesday received criticism from various quarters for allegedly failing to carry out its “responsibility” as a neutral force.

A Mizoram minister, the local MLA and the village council chief alleged that the CRPF were unable to prevent “Assam policemen and civilians” from entering the neighbouring state and overrun security forces’ camps inside Mizoram near Veringte on Monday.

Central paramilitary forces have been deployed along the Mizoram-Assam border by the Central government as neutral forces to defuse tension and maintain peace following a border standoff in August last year.

While the CRPF are deployed on the Mizoram side, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) are camped on the Assam side in Lailapur.

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Mizoram Information and Public Relations Minister Lalruatkima alleged that the paramilitary forces did not restrain armed police personnel and civilians from Assam from intruding into Mizoram territory despite the vulnerability of the situation.

“The bloody clash could have been averted had CRPF personnel prevented Assam police from entering Mizoram territory and put restrain on them,” Lalruatkima, who is currently camping at Vairengte, told PTI.

He alleged that unarmed Mizoram police officers were denied protection by CRPF personnel when they rushed to the CRPF base when the firing took place between two state forces on Monday.

Officials of the CRPF were not available for comment.

Lalrinsanga Ralte, the MLA of Serlui constituency under which Vairengte falls, accused the CRPF of backing the police personnel and civilians from Assam in entering Mizoram territory.

He also alleged that Assam police took over the CRPF camp and driven out around 15 personnel of Mizoram police from their duty post located a few meters away from the CRPF camp on the outskirt of Vairengte.

The MLA claimed that the people of Mizoram have lost faith in the paramilitary force as far as maintaining neutrality and restoring peace on the border areas are concerned.

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Vairengte joint village council chairman R Lalfamkima also blamed the CRPF for allegedly failing to carry out their responsibility to defuse tension.

Lalfamkima, who claimed to have been present at the incident site on Monday, alleged that the CRPF personnel did nothing to stop the Assam team from proceeding and avert clashes.

In a statement on Monday, the Assam government alleged that the Mizoram Police opened fire on its officials and civilians from two dominating high features with automatic weapons, including light machine guns (LMGs).

However, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana claimed that the state police responded “spontaneously by firing back” at Assam Police after its 200 personnel forcibly crossed a duty post manned by CRPF personnel and indulged in arson and firing and assaulted unarmed people Following the incident, Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga and urged them to ensure peace along the disputed border and find an amicable settlement.

Assam’s Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi share a 164-km border with Mizoram’s three districts of Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit.

Tensions 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.

On October 22, 2020, high-level talks were held under the aegis of the Union Home Ministry where it was decided to maintain the status quo and resolve the dispute through discussions.

The tension flared up again in February this year and since then people had fled their houses near Gallacherra border outpost after two huts were burnt down.

After a lull of few months, a grenade was hurled on an Assam government team visiting the border by unknown attackers from Mizoram on July 10, while two back-to-back explosions were heard from across the border in the wee hours on July 11.

A high-level meeting between officials of both the states, including the chief secretaries and DGPs, was also held in New Delhi earlier this month, on the issue to sort out the dispute.

Mizoram was a district of Assam before it was carved out as a separate union territory in 1971 after years of insurgency and the district borders did not really matter.

The border issue cropped up after that as perceptions over where the boundary should be, differed.

While Mizoram wants it to be along the inner line notified in 1875, which Mizo tribals feel is part of their historical homeland, Assam wants it to be demarcated according to district demarcation done much later.