NSCN-K rebels. Telegraph picture
Kohima, May 4: Security forces have launched a massive operation against the Myanmar-based NSCN (Khaplang), which gunned down eight security personnel in an ambush in Mon district of Nagaland yesterday. The district administration today held a security review meeting.
An Assam Rifles official here said the situation in the state was normal and refused to give details but sources said an operation had been launched to flush out NSCN (K) militants from Indian soil.
Naga militants usually do not attack security forces on Sunday. They fast and pray for their safety and for early resolution of the Naga political problem on Sabbath day. But yesterday turned out to be a bloody Sunday when the NSCN (K) ambushed security personnel escorting a water tanker on its way to fetch water.
The ambush took place about 3km from Changlangshu village, where a unit of 23 Assam Rifles is stationed, in Tobu subdivision, near the Indo-Myanmar border, around 2.30pm. The militants were armed with sophisticated weapons and improvised explosive devices. A bomb ripped the truck carrying the security personnel.
The victims have been identified as warrant officer Kanjang Kuki and riflemen Biswas Sonowal, Sanjeevan S., J. Debbarman, Juresalim Hara, Taniklal Patel and L. Haokip Kuki of 23 Assam Rifles and a jawan of Naga Regiment (164 Territorial Army). Nine security personnel were also injured.
Security forces said an NSCN (K) cadre was killed on the spot and two were injured but their colleagues dragged them away. The militants also decamped with three rifles.
The Assam Rifles, which has been deployed in the state for counter-insurgency operations, has sealed the border - all exit points from Mon, Zunheboto and Tuensang districts. Sources said some NSCN (K) cadres were seen moving around on the outskirts of Kohima a few days ago.
Mon deputy commissioner Honje Konyak convened an emergency meeting of police and administration officials and village guards to take stock of the situation. He has called another security coordination meeting on May 15. He asked all village guards, especially of Tobu subdivision, to assist security forces and to be alert so that such incidents do not take place in civilian areas.
Nagaland governor Padmanabha Balakrishna Acharya condemned the attack as an act of extreme cowardice. He said the soldiers were ambushed when they had gone to fetch water and not in combat. He said violence has no place in democracy and the government would initiate strict action.
The attack has shocked the people of the state, as Sunday is a holy day for Christian-dominated states like Nagaland.
Other militant groups refrained from commenting on the situation in the state following the unilateral abrogation of ceasefire by the NSCN (K). They, however, advocated peaceful resolution of the protracted Indo-Naga political problem.
The NSCN group led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, which is in talks with the Centre since 1997, questioned the sincerity and commitment of New Delhi in solving the Naga imbroglio and reiterated that its cadres were ready to go back to the jungles.
The NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) said it would not allow the NSCN (K) to collect money in the state and warned of capital punishment if NSCN (K) cadres were caught. It has asked the rival group not to interfere in the affairs of Indian Nagas.
The Y. Wangtin Naga-led NSCN (Reformation), which recently split from the NSCN (K), accused Khaplang of playing a double game. It criticised the group for abrogating ceasefire with the government of India while having a truce with the Myanmar government.
Several Naga organisations and the state government have asked the NSCN (K) and the Centre to extend the ceasefire so that the state's progress is not hampered.
The NSCN (K) said the government of India had not resolved the Indo-Naga problem despite 14 years of truce. It accused Delhi of adopting delay tactics to subdue the Naga political issue and added that the NSCN (K) would never compromise on the rights of Nagas. It said the Centre had failed to express any indication or inclination to discuss and resolve the conflict.
The NSCN (K) had signed a ceasefire with the Centre on April 28, 2001 but New Delhi did not hold any political dialogue with the outfit. After the group abrogated the ceasefire this year, the Centre said it would not extend truce with the Myanmar-based outfit.
The state government is worried that renewal of conflict will hamper its plan of establishing international trade centres along the Indo-Myanmar border as well as the Centre's Look East policy. The state has established three such centres at Longwa in Mon district, Pangsha in Tuensang and Awangkhu in Phek district. NSCN (K) insurgents operate in these areas.
Sources here said New Delhi has asked Myanmar to rein in the NSCN (K), whose cadres move around freely and harbour Indian militant groups in the neighbouring country.