Amid outrage over the mistaken killings of 14 civilians in a botched army operation against insurgents, the Nagaland government will write to the Centre calling for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a law that gives sweeping powers to the army in troubled regions.
Nagaland will also call off the Hornbill Festival, an annual event that draws thousands of domestic and foreign tourists. Today was the sixth day of the signature 10-day event.
The decisions were taken in an “urgent meeting” of the Nagaland cabinet.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had yesterday said AFSPA must be removed as it was the cause of unrest and pain in his state. Speaking at the funeral service for those who were killed, he called the law a black stain on the image of the country.
“AFSPA gives powers to the Army to arrest civilians without any arrest warrant, raid houses and also kill people. But there is no action against the security forces. They have created a law and order situation,” the Chief Minister said.
The remarks were significant coming from Mr Rio, an ally of the BJP and part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma, another BJP ally, echoed the view.
On Saturday, 14 villagers and a soldier died in Nagaland’s Mon district after an Army op to track down insurgents went off script. A police FIR has said the Army’s 21 Para Special Forces “blankly opened fire”.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, in a statement in parliament yesterday, expressed regret over the incident and said it was a case of mistaken identity.
The Nagaland killings have revived demands for the scrapping of AFSPA, which gives the armed forces special powers to search, arrest without a warrant and open fire in areas declared “disturbed”.
The controversial law is in place in Nagaland, Assam, Manipur (excluding seven assembly constituencies of Imphal) and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, besides Jammu and Kashmir. Tripura and parts of Meghalaya were taken out of the list.
Under AFSPA, the forces may arrest or shoot to kill on mere suspicion.
AFSPA also protects security forces from legal proceedings unless cleared by the centre. In the context of the Nagaland violence and killings, there are concerns the centre will cite the law to protect the Army’s elite 21 Para Special Forces from investigation.
The Nagaland police have filed a murder case against the army unit, accusing the troops of “intent to murder”.