The Special Investigations Team set up by the Nagaland government to probe the Army operation at Oting village in Mon on December 4 that left six coal miners dead will get access to the soldiers involved in the incident. The government had called the incident a case of “mistaken identity”. In the violence that followed the incident, nine more, including a soldier, were killed.
Army sources said that while the SIT was yet to take the statement of anyone, it would have access starting Thursday to “whosoever they want”. It is not clear how many or who all be called for questioning.
The soldiers involved will be called to depose at the Rainforest Research Institute in Jorhat, Assam. Sources said 30 soldiers and officers of the 21 Para Special Forces were part of the operation, of which around a dozen were injured and one was killed as an angry mob attacked a camp.
Sources said the Army was “fully cooperating” with the SIT and required details are being shared in a timely manner.
The Army has instituted its own Court of Inquiry, headed by a Major General-rank officer based in Assam, to probe the incident. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Army said its probe team had visited Oting Wednesday and inspected the site “to understand the circumstances in which the incident could have happened”.
The Army’s decision to allow the state inquiry panel access to its men is another step to contain damage from the incident. Earlier, the Centre announced a panel to review if AFSPA should be revoked in Nagaland.
Saying “the Court of Inquiry is progressing expeditiously and all efforts are being made to conclude it at the earliest”, the statement added: “The team also took along the witnesses for better understanding of the situation & how events would have unfolded. Subsequently, the team was also present at Tizit Police Station, Mon District… to meet (a) cross-section of society (including) civilians, police personnel and doctors who treated the injured, for obtaining valuable information pertaining to the incident.”
The statement mentioned that the Army had earlier twice requested, “through public notices”, that any person having information on the matter, “any input, photo or video”, should share the same. It said the information could be shared, “in person”, with its Inquiry Team at Tizit Police Station or the Inquiry Team at Dinjan Military Station.
The Army had officially expressed regret about the incident. Union Home Minister Amit Shah had told Parliament that the killings were the result of “mistaken identity”, after forces had mistaken coal miners for militants for whom they had set an ambush. He said the forces had opened fire after the miners had sped away on being told to stop.
However, the Army version had raised several questions, as the miners were coming back from work down a route that they routinely took. One of the survivors had told The Indian Express that the forces had shot straight at them.
The incident led to renewed demands for repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which provides certain immunity to Army personnel in regions where it is imposed.
The Central Government recently announced a committee to look into whether AFSPA could be revoked in Nagaland. The committee is headed by Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India Vivek Joshi, and includes Additional Secretary in the Union Home Ministry Piyush Goyal, as well as the Chief Secretary, Director General of Police, Nagaland, and the DGP, Assam Rifles, as members.