July 5: Armed Naga encroachers raided three Assam villages today in the manner of medieval invaders lusting for new territory.
The 45-minute raid left a trail of two bodies, charred cattle corpses, razed houses and strained relations between two governments that have idled over their boundary dispute for nearly four decades.
Official sources said the encroachers entered Assam through the unguarded inter-state border in Sivasagar district with war cries on their lips and targeted Sonapur, Dhekiajuri and Borholla villages. All three villages are under Geleki police station.
Two persons, Sarafat Ali of Sonapur and Min Bahadur Chetri of Borholla, were shot dead. Another villager, Kamal Bahadur Chetri, was critically injured when he stepped on a landmine planted by the raiders before they returned to Nagaland.
“There would have been more deaths and injuries had villagers not fled their homes after hearing war cries at a distance. The raiders were in a murderous mood,” said Abdul Gafar Ali of Sonapur village.
The three villages are inhabited mostly by Nepali and tea tribesettlers, as well as Muslims who were drawn to the area by the fertile land. The combined population of the three villages is around 2,000, official sources said.
Huts and cattle sheds were razed to the ground in all three villages. Several heads of cattle were charred when the marauders torched houses.
Sonapur, Dhekiajuri and Borholla are all located within a five-km radius of the inter-state border.
The attack provoked the All Assam Students’ Union to clamp an indefinite economic blockade along the Naginimora-Mokokchung road, a part of which is in Sivasagar district. It also declared a district bandh tomorrow to protest the government’s failure to protect life and property in the border villages.
The organisation threatened to block all roads leading to Nagaland if more such incidents occurred.
The commanding officer of the 1st Assam Police Battalion based at Ligeripukhuri in Sivasagar district, A. Kuddus, described the morning’s mayhem as a “planned attack by a large group of miscreants from across the border”. He said the landmine was planted to prevent Assam police from following them.
Abhishek Singh, the deputy commissioner of Mokokchung district of Nagaland, led a delegation to a meeting at Sivasagar Circuit House later in the day.
Officials of the Sivasagar administration said Nagaland must arrest the culprits and hand them over to Assam for trial.
The boundary dispute between the two neighbours has been festering since 1968, when Nagaland police attacked Assamese villagers at Doyang forest reserve. A similar incident occurred at Rengma forest reserve of Karbi Anglong on January 5, 1979.
The worst clash was on June 4, 1985, when over 100 people died in firing between Assam and Nagaland police at Merapani. That incident led to the states signing an interim agreement to maintain status quo on the boundary.
The first sign of trouble along the Sivasagar stretch of the boundary in recent months was Nagaland police setting up a border outpost at Chengibil. It was dismantled when Assam police set up an outpost just in front of it.
A year ago, a butcher was shot at and wounded by a Naga youth at Namtola market on the Assam side. On May 29, an Assam police team shot dead an alleged criminal from Nagaland in the same area.