Kohima, June 21: A sleepy Nagaland town woke up today to find unwanted guests and the smell of gunpowder in the air.
Phek, Zunheboto and Wokha may have learnt to live with the danger of being caught in the crossfire between the two NSCN factions, but residents of Tizit a part of Mon district and bordering Sivasagar in Assam were unprepared for the intrusion by militants spoiling for a fight in their town.
People were seen scurrying to safer places within an hour of the Khaplang and Isak-Muivah factions announcing their intent by firing in the air. Militants from the Khaplang group also triggered three bombs at Phantom Colony. Both sides advised residents to leave the town if they wanted to be safe.
Phuhpon Konyak, the additional deputy commissioner of Tizit, confirmed the developments. He said it was obvious that the warring factions were clearing the town in preparation for a showdown.
The battle may begin any moment. Several organisations have requested the rebel commanders to leave the town and avoid civilian casualties, only to be rebuffed, Konyak said.
It was estimated that over 100 NSCN (K) members had marched in to challenge the 80-odd men from the other faction.
The exodus of residents from Tizit was mostly towards Sivasagar district. The Sivasagar administration increased vigilance at the inter-state checkpoint at Namtola, leading to Sonari town, to ensure that the arrival of people from Nagaland did not cause any disturbance.
Konyak said a large police contingent was trying to prevent the militants from turning Tizit into their battleground. The town is not short of security personnel. It is the headquarters of the 6 Nagaland Armed Police and has a company each of the Assam Rifles and India Reserve Battalion.
Mon district is home to several NSCN (K) leaders, but their movements are restricted by the presence of the NSCN (I-M) faction at both exit points Tizit and Naginimora.
The trigger for the build-up in Tizit is believed to be the NSCN (K)s insistence on having a designated camp in Mon, the NSCN (I-M)s stronghold for many years. Delhi, which has separate ceasefire agreements with the Naga factions, has asked both to herd their cadre back to designated camps by June 30.
Mon is not the only place where the Naga factions have been at war. A shootout took place at Yoruba village, under Chozuba subdivision near Kohima, for about an hour last evening. There was no casualty in the incident.
Phek and Zunheboto have been on the edge for several months because of the presence of armed militants from both factions.