Indian Army mistakenly kills two civilians in Meghalaya; soldiers' arrest demanded

Guwahati/Shillong: In a case of mistaken identity, the army killed two civilians during a counter-insurgency operation in Meghalaya, a defence spokesperson said on Thursday. The killing triggered protests, as pressure groups and political parties demanded the immediate arrest of the army men involved in the incident.

The incident occurred on Wednesday night in Kharkutta area of East Garo Hills district "primarily due to non-adherence of existing security instructions by the concerned civilians", defence spokesman Lt. Col. Suneet Newton said in Guwahati.

"The army had launched a counter-insurgency operation in the area. There was information that two cadres of the Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) are moving in the area.

"Following this, troops carried out an area domination patrol there. A mobile vehicle check post was also set up on the road between Kharkutta to Khilor," he said.

"Two motorcycle-borne youths came around 8.40 p.m. When signalled to stop, they accelerated their motorcycle and tried to escape.

They were later identified as Alphuis Momin, a 35-year-old school teacher, and 30-year-old Sweetbirth D. Marak, both residents of Rajasimla in North Garo Hills, some 150 km from Shillong.

"Due to the huge back blast and flash which came out of the silencer and due to the prevailing pitch darkness, it seemed that the motorcyclists had opened fire. The troops fired in retaliation, hitting the youths killing them instantly," the spokesperson said.

A probe has been ordered by the army into the incident.

The Garo Hills region is a hotbed of militancy. According to official statistics, 87 people have been abducted by militants for ransom till October this year.

The incident assumes significance as the Meghalaya High Court recently asked the government to enforce the stringent Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to control the deteriorating law and order situation in the Garo Hills region.

The army is operating 20 km inside Meghalaya from its border with Assam -- and the area has been declared "disturbed area" under the AFSPA to fight against militants.

The killing triggered protests in the North Garo Hills district, where the two civilians resided.

Following the news of the killings, hundreds of tribal Garos from the area on Thursday surrounded the Kharkutta police outpost demanding the arrest of the army men involved.

The Garo Students' Union and the opposition National People's Party demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident.

"We demanded the immediate arrest of the army troopers involved in the incident, and the Meghalaya government to institute a judicial probe," Garo Students Union president Tengsak G. Momin told IANS.

The students' body also demanded immediate compensation to the victims' families.

Condemning the killings, NPP leader Conrad K. Sangma said the state government should immediately institute a judicial probe into the incident and arrest the army men.

Meghalaya Police said an FIR has been registered.

"The situation in the area is tense and we are keeping a close watch. We have filed a suo-motu FIR into the incident. Another FIR by the relatives of the two dead people and one by the army too have been filed admitting that it was a case of mistaken identity," Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) S.B. Singh told IANS.

Though, police have started investigation, no one has been arrested, he said.

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