Indian forces have shot and killed at least 14 civilians in the remote northeastern state of Nagaland.
An army officer said on Sunday that Indian troops, operating on intelligence about a movement of militants in the area, had mistakenly shot dead six laborers after firing on a truck in an ambush. The soldiers later opened fire at a crowd that had gathered to protest the incident by burning two army vehicles, killing eight more people.
One soldier was also killed in the clashes and nine other civilians were being treated for gunshot wounds in local hospitals.
Nagaland police officer Sandeep M. Tamgadge told AFP that the situation in the region was "very tense right now."
Nagaland state’s top elected official, Neiphiu Rio, said the whole incident was unfortunate.
The unfortunate incident leading to killing of civilians at Oting, Mon is highly condemnable.Condolences to the bereaved families & speedy recovery of those injured. High level SIT will investigate & justice delivered as per the law of the land.Appeal for peace from all sections— Neiphiu Rio (@Neiphiu_Rio) December 5, 2021
The chief minister called on the residents of the area to be calm and announced an investigation into the incidents.
The Indian army confirmed that one soldier had been killed and an unspecified number of troops wounded after the laborers' family members and other villagers went looking for the missing men and confronted the troops after finding the dead bodies.
The army added that the troops had set up the ambush based on "credible intelligence" that militants were operating in the region.
"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," the army statement said.
India's Home Minister Amit Shah too expressed regret over the tragic incident. He gave assurances to the victims' relatives that New Delhi would "ensure justice to the bereaved families."
Anguished over an unfortunate incident in Nagaland’s Oting, Mon. I express my deepest condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives. A high-level SIT constituted by the State govt will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families.— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 5, 2021
Left-wing Maoist insurgents launched a peasant uprising across India in the early 60s.
The Maoist guerrillas, who say they are fighting for the rights of tribal people and landless farmers, are referred to as Naxals. The name is derived from a Maoist rebellion originating in the Naxalbari village of the eastern West Bengal state in 1967.
The Maoists are believed to be present in at least 20 of India's 36 states and union territories.
The decades-long insurgency has cost thousands of lives in the guerrilla-dominated "Red Corridor" stretching through central and eastern India. It was described by then-prime minister Manmohan Singh as New Delhi's most serious internal security threat.
Over the years, the insurgency has waned after many groups signed deals with New Delhi for more autonomy. However, India maintains a large garrison of troops in the region.
Critics believe attempts to end the insurgency through harsh military attacks were doomed to fail, saying the real solution is better governance and development of the region.