Breaking their silence after four days of a shoot-out in which 13 of their village youth died in firing by Para commandos, the Oting Citizens Office, representing Oting village in Nagaland's remote Mon district on Wednesday rubbished official claims and asserted security forces had tried to hide the dead bodies and dress them in fatigues in a bid to pass them off as militants after a botched up ambush.
The citizen's body also claimed the killings were in "cold blood" with the driver being among the first to be shot dead with a bullet which pierced the windshield. Attempts to contact the Army spokesperson in Kohima to cross-check the allegations have as yet remained unanswered.
An official statement made by the Government on Monday had said that based on inputs received by the Indian Army about movement of the insurgents near Tiru village in Mon district, a team of para-commandos laid an ambush on Saturday, during which, "a vehicle approached the location and it was signaled to stop. However, the vehicle tried to flee, following which the vehicle, suspected of carrying insurgents, was fired upon resulting in killing of 6 out of 8 persons travelling in the vehicle. However, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity."
The Oting villagers through a statement related that "on the fateful evening of 4th December 2021, around 3:30 PM, one pick-up truck loaded with 8 Coal miners were returning from (a) mining site as next day was Sunday, which we the Christians consider a day of rest... Around 4:30 pm, the security forces ambushed that very pick-up truck without ascertaining anything about the passengers."
The security forces then "blocked the road for all traffic and diverted all vehicles to the less frequented old Pioneer road. Meanwhile, villagers were anxiously waiting for the pick-up truck to reach the village, for they learnt that there was a shootout" on that stretch, according to the Oting Citizens' body.
The Oting Citizens Office claimed that around 8:00 PM, the villagers went searching and found the empty pick-up truck, "with the bullet mark piercing through the windshield exactly at the driver's position, blood stains covered with dust and mud, and the boys missing from the vehicle."
"The pierced windshield in the front by bullets clearly indicates that they first shot the driver of the pick-up truck to (bring it to a) halt and ambushed the remaining point blank," the statement alleged.
The villagers claimed they chased three fleeing vehicles used by the security forces on motorcycles and intercepted them.
Though securitymen denied any knowledge of the missing boys, a search found six of the missing miners under a tarpaulin. These boys were half dressed and lying dead.
The Oting Citizens accused the security forces of attempting "to brand the boys as militants by planting weapons and dressing them in camouflage uniforms and boots."
Soon after heated argument between security forces and villagers broke out and turned into physical scuffles. Armymen according to the villagers "started firing indiscriminately, abruptly killing and injuring few others on the spot."
"We may be small and tiny in area and population, yet we are ready to compromise with situation to lose our heads and take the enemy's heads. For we are warriors by blood and origin, and no force can intimidate us," the statement asserted.
The situation in the border state of Nagaland, where protests and rioting broke out after firing by security forces claimed 14 civilian lives, has been tense but calm.
There have been demands by the state government and various citizens groups that the Centre repeal the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which gives powers of arrest and detention to the army.
Besides the 13 killed on Saturday, one more person was killed on Sunday, as security forces fired back at rioting attackers in the headquarters of the district.
The Nagaland Police filed a suo moto FIR against the 21st Para Special Force of the Army which had conducted the botched operation based on intelligence inputs of a movement by militants belonging to a faction of the NSCN.
The Indian Army has ordered a court of inquiry headed by an officer of major general rank into the Nagaland incident.
Expressing regret over the Nagaland firing incident, Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday said a probe by an SIT will be completed within a month and asserted that all agencies must ensure such happenings do not recur while taking action against insurgents.