At least five Assam Police personnel were killed while defending the "constitutional boundary" of the state with Mizoram and more than 60 people injured, including an SP, as the festering border dispute between the two northeastern states erupted into a bloody conflict on Monday, officials said.
Earlier, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had claimed six police personnel were killed in action during the clashes.
An Assam government statement later revised the figure just before midnight and said that five state police personnel died and more than 50 people of the force were injured.
Ten other people were also injured in the clash, officials of Assam's Cachar district said.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to the chief ministers of Assam and Mizoram, Himanta Biswa Sarma and Zoramthanga respectively, and urged them to ensure peace along the disputed border and find an amicable settlement.
Assam's Barak Valley districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi share a 164 km long border with Mizoram's three districts of Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit.
After allegations of encroachment of territory by both sides over the past few weeks and skirmishes that escalated tensions between the two states, violent clashes were reported along the inter-state border that ended in the death of at least five Assam policemen.
The incidents came two days after Amit Shah held talks with the chief ministers of eight northeastern states and underscored the need to resolve lingering border disputes.
"It is with a heavy heart that we are constrained to note that what is being termed by the Mizoram side as an intrusion and aggression by Assam, has left 5 Assam Police personnel confirmed dead (6 as per initial reports, which is being confirmed)," the Assam government statement said.
It also said that more than 50 police personnel, including the Cachar SP Nimbalkar Vaibhav Chandrakant who has a bullet embedded in his leg and is in the ICU, were injured.
The deceased have been identified as sub-inspector Swapan Kr Roy and constables Liton Suklabaidya, M H Barbhuyia, N Hussain and S Barbhuiya, it added.
The Assam government said that a team of officials, including an IG, DIG, DC Cachar, SP Cachar and DFO Cachar, went to sort out issues related to alleged construction of a road by Mizoram towards Rengti Basti in Assam, destroying the Inner Line Reserve Forest in Lailapur area.
"Simultaneously, the Mizoram side also set up a new armed camp on a hillock next to the camp of the neutral force, CRPF, in the same vicinity," it said, adding a mob from Mizoram started stone pelting and destroyed three vehicles including the DC's car.
It further claimed that the Mizoram Police simultaneously fired tear gas shells on the delegation and the IG was injured in this barrage. In the afternoon, SP Kolasib along with two Additional SP level officers held a discussion with the Assam delegation.
"The Mizoram officials went ostensibly to talk to the mob, but the SP Kolasib returned again around 4:30 pm to state that he had no control over the mob.
"Horrifically, even while SP, Kolasib was in talks with the Assam officers, the Mizoram Police opened fire on the Assam officials and civilians, who had by then gathered there, from two dominating high features with automatic weapons, including LMGs," the statement said.
Talking about the usage of light machine guns (LMGs), the Assam Chief Minister said, "This is sad, unfortunate and speaks volumes about the intention and gravity of the situation."
Officials said Sarma will visit the violence-hit Assam-Mizoram border on Tuesday morning to assess the situation.
However, the Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana, in a statement, claimed Mizoram Police responded "spontaneously by firing back" at Assam Police after its 200 personnel forcibly crossed a duty post manned by the CRPF personnel and indulged in arson, assault on unarmed persons and firing.
A senior Assam Police officer, who is still inside the forest amid continuous firing from across the border, told PTI that at least 50 personnel, including Cachar SP Nimbalkar, were injured in firing and stone-pelting.
The Assam police officer claimed "miscreants" from across the border suddenly started firing when civil officials of both sides were holding talks to sort out the differences.
"I immediately cannot say how many people have been injured, but my guess is at least 50 personnel. Our SP was also injured in the firing and a bullet hit his leg," the officer said over the phone.
"I along with the team am still sitting at the foothills. We were engaged in a dialogue with Mizoram's Kolasib SP Mr Ralte and his additional SP. Assam Police IGP, DC, SP all were there and talking to find a solution to the problem.
"We did not allow our public to go there, but their people were constantly throwing stones. Many were injured. They were also hitting us with marbles using catapults. As we were talking, they opened fire from a hilltop," he said.
The officer said the Assam Police team "somehow" managed to take position and start retaliatory firing.
Meanwhile, Silchar Medical College and Hospital Principal Babul Bezbarua told PTI that at least 50 police personnel were admitted with bullet injuries.
"There is a constant flow of injured personnel. As we are talking, another vehicle with a few more injured persons have entered the hospital. All of them have bullet or pellet injuries. We have called in all doctors and formed different teams to treat the injured," he said.
Around 10 more people were admitted to a hospital in nearby Dholai, officials said.
During his separate telephonic conversations with Assam CM Sarma and his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga, Shah asked them to maintain peace along the inter-state border where tension prevails, official sources said.
The Union home minister asked the chief ministers to resolve the border issue through discussion.
Soon after, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana said in a statement that following the intervention of Shah, the Assam Police have withdrawn from the place and the duty post has been handed back to CRPF personnel.
Earlier, Zoramthanga accused the Assam Police of resorting to lathi-charge and lobbing tear gas shells while Assam Police claimed that a large number of "miscreants" from Mizoram had indulged in stone pelting and attacked Assam government officials.
Zoramthanga posted a video on his Twitter handle of a stand-off between Assam police personnel and a group of stick-wielding youths.
"Shri @AmitShah ji kindly look into the matter. This needs to be stopped right now. #MizoramAssamBorderTension," he said, tagging the Prime Minister's office and Union Home Minister's office, Sarma and officials of Assam's Cachardistrict.
Zoramthanga also alleged in another tweet that "an innocent couple" on their way back to Mizoram via Cachar was "manhandled" by "thugs and goons". "How are you going to justify these violent acts?" he asked.
The Assam Police countered his allegations by saying that people from Mizoram attacked its personnel and indulged in stone-pelting on them.
"It's unfortunate that a large number of miscreants from Mizoram are indulging in stone pelting and such forms of attack at Assam Government Officials, stationed at Lailapur to protect Assam's land from encroachment," it tweeted.
The Assam chief minister also tweeted: "Honble @ZoramthangaCM ji , Kolasib ( Mizoram) SP is asking us to withdraw from our post until then their civilians won't listen nor stop violence.
"How can we run government in such circumstances? Hope you will intervene at earliest @AmitShah @PMOIndia," hetweeted posting a video of the situation.
The long-standing dispute has its origin in a notification of 1875 issued during the British era that differentiated Lushai Hills from the plains of Cachar, and another of 1933 that demarcates a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
Mizoram insists the inter-state boundary should be demarcated on the basis of the 1875 notification, a corollary to the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) Act, 1873.
Mizoram leaders have been arguing against the demarcation notified in 1933 claiming Mizo society was not consulted, while Assam wants that notification to be enforced.
Tension reportedly flared up again on Sunday when the huts of eight Mizo farmers were allegedly set ablaze near Aitlang stream in the trouble-torn area, DIG (Northern Range) Lalbiakthanga Khiangte, told PTI. All these huts belonged to farmers from Vairengte, the village closest to the Assam border, and were uninhabited.
Even as incidents of stone-pelting and clashes were on, Himanta Biswa Sarma spoke to his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga on Monday and proposed a visit to Aizawl to hammer out a solution.
The two chief ministers, however, soon got embroiled in a face-off on Twitter.
"I have just spoken to Hon'ble Chief Minister @ZoramthangaCM ji. I have reiterated that Assam will maintain status quo and peace between the borders of our state. I have expressed my willingness to visit Aizawl and discuss these issues if need be," Sarma tweeted.
The Mizoram-Assam border has been tense since June when Assam Police allegedly took control of an area known as 'Aitlang hnar', about 5 km from Vairengte, accusing the neighbouring state of encroaching its territory.
The Bharatiya Janata Party along with its allies rules all the eight states of the northeast and the suppurating tension between the two states may cast a shadow over its plans to further consolidate its hold on the region.