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Illustration by Security Management

Tensions High in Nagaland After Security Forces Open Fire on Civilians

Security forces in India killed 14 civilians during the weekend after a botched operation against alleged insurgents in the area, leading to widespread protests and anger.

Eight civilians were killed when a truck carrying coal miners back from work was mistakenly ambushed on 4 December by security forces hunting for insurgents in Nagaland State, along the border with Myanmar, according to The New York Times. The Indian Army said the soldiers were responding to “credible intelligence” reports about insurgent movements.

“The incident and its aftermath is deeply regretted,” the army said in a statement on Sunday, 5 December. “The cause of the unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law.”

After news about the killings started to spread, residents attacked troops and set two military vehicles on fire. One Indian soldier was killed, and security forces opened fire on crowds, killing five more people. On 5 December, another civilian was killed by government forces after protesters entered an army camp.

The state of Nagaland has been embroiled in one of the longest-running guerilla insurgencies in Asia, according to DW. But violence has been declining after India built up a heavy military presence and signed a peace agreement with separatists in 2015, the Times reported.

Clashes have increased in recent months, however, including when five police officers were killed in July during a standoff at a border crossing. Government forces are confronting dozens of armed ethnic groups in the remote northeast of India; the groups demands range from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India, Al Jazeera reported.

Authorities in the region shut down mobile Internet and messaging services to mitigate the spread of rumors, and officials have promised thorough investigations of the weekend's events.

In Nagaland, people frequently accuse security forces of wrongfully targeting civilians in counterinsurgency operations because they are protected under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This allows Indian forces to open fire to maintain public order in areas designated as “disturbed areas,” according to Al Jazeera.

Funeral rites were held for the civilians Monday, drawing large crowds. One placard held by mourners said “The killing of innocent civilians is terrorism. We are Indians, not terrorists.”