The Mizoram government on Monday alleged that Assam Police personnel opened fire on the state's security forces and civilians, prompting retaliatory action, as tension flared along the inter-state border.
At least six Assam police personnel were killed and 50 others, including a superintendent of police, injured in the clashes on Monday in a sudden escalation of the border dispute between Assam and Mizoram that also saw the two chief ministers engaging in a public spat, blaming each other's police for the violence and seeking the Centre's intervention.
The development comes days after a meeting of chief ministers of northeastern states chaired by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Shillong, during which the border issue was raised.
Mizoram Deputy Inspector General of Police (Northern Range), Lalbiakthanga Khiangte, told PTI that Assam Police opened fire and hurled grenades at Mizoram forces and unarmed civilians near Vairengte village in Kolasib district in the afternoon.
"We had no other choice but to retaliate in self defence," he said.
Police sources said the state forces exchanged fire for about 40 minutes.
Kolasib District Deputy Commissioner H Lalthlangliana alleged tension escalated when Assam Police accompanied by civilians forcefully took control of a duty post manned by Mizoram Police on the outskirts of Vairengte.
"They even overran a Central Reserve Police Force duty post in Vairengte," he claimed.
The Mizoram government later issued a statement condemning the incident, and called upon authorities in Assam to create a congenial environment for peaceful resolution of the dispute.
Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana said around 200 armed Assam Police personnel arrived at the Vairengte auto-rickshaw stand around 11.30 am on Monday.
"... A volley of tear gas canisters and grenades were launched at Mizoram Police followed by firing from Assam side around 4.50 pm. Mizoram Police responded spontaneously by firing back in spite of the fact that Kolasib District SP was still inside the CRPF duty camp negotiating with the Assam Police authorities," Lalchamliana said.
He also accused Assam Police personnel of causing damage to several vehicles that were travelling along the National Highway between Vairengte and Lailapur in Assam.
'Upon learning of the arson... residents of Vairengte town proceeded to the site to inquire. The unarmed civilians were assaulted by Assam Police by resorting to lathicharge and firing tear gas, thereby causing injuries to several civilians,' the minister said in the statement.
The Mizoram government 'strongly condemns the unjustified act of the Government of Assam in this intrusion and aggression into the territory of Mizoram', he said.
'The Government of Mizoram deeply regrets the needless injuries on both sides which could have been avoided and wishes a speedy recovery to all those injured,' Lalchamliana said.
He added that Assam Police later withdrew from the site and the duty post was handed back to the CRPF following the intervention of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who spoke to the chief ministers of both states.
Earlier in the day, Khiangte had said eight unoccupied farm huts were set ablaze by unidentified miscreants on Sunday night near the Mizoram-Assam border.
Meanwhile, chief ministers of both states clashed on Twitter over the violence along the inter-state border.
'Dear Himanta ji, after cordial meeting of CMs by Hon'ble Shri @amitshah ji, surprisingly 2 companies of Assam Police with civilians lathi-charged & tear-gassed civilians at Vairengte Auto Rickshaw stand inside Mizoram today. They even overrun CRPF personnel/Mizoram Police,' Zoramthanga said on Twitter.
In reply, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said: '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.'
Sarma, however, said in another tweet that he has spoken to Zoramthanga and reiterated that Assam will maintain status quo and peace along the border.
The situation along the Mizoram-Assam border has been on the boil since June-end when Assam Police allegedly took control over an area known as 'Aitlang hnar' about 5 km from Vairengte, accusing the neighbouring state of encroaching on its territory.