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Assam-Mizoram Border Dispute: Cops, CMs on Both Sides of a Century-Old Tug of War

Police personnel at the site of the clash at the Assam-Mizoram border at Lailapur in Cachar district, Monday, July 26, 2021. (PTI Photo)

Police personnel at the site of the clash at the Assam-Mizoram border at Lailapur in Cachar district, Monday, July 26, 2021. (PTI Photo)

Officials from Assam and Mizoram, including Chief Ministers Himanta Biswa Sarma and Zoramthanga, have accused each other of provoking violence.

The border dispute between Assam and Mizoram is more than a century old. However, in the recent past, skirmishes have turned violent and have led to major clashes resulting in deaths on both sides. Chief Ministers of both states along with MPs have taken potshots at each other for the riot-like situation at the border. Several police personnel and civilians have lost their lives and many others have been hospitalised.

Officials from both sides, including Chief Ministers, have accused each other of provoking violence.

Unprecedented, that cops fired at each other

Assam shares a 164km border with Mizoram, and both states contest its demarcation.

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Earlier this week, it was the first time police in the states fired at each other. Six officers killed in the attack were from Assam.

Home Minister Amit Shah has spoken to the Chief Ministers of Assam and Mizoram - Himanta Biswa Sarma and Zoramthanga - and urged them to ensure peace along the disputed border by finding an “amicable solution" to the problem.

No truce since 1994

Under colonial rule, Mizoram was known as Lushai Hills and was a district of Assam. It only became a state in 1987.

Three districts in Assam - Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj - share a 164km-long border with three districts of Mizoram. The forested area is contested at several points, with both Assam and Mizoram accusing each other of encroaching on their land.

The first row broke out in 1994, leading to several rounds of talks. But sporadic clashes have continued.

Tensions escalated to an unprecedented level in October 2020 when residents of Assam and Mizoram clashed twice in a week. At least eight people were injured as angry residents torched huts and small shops on both sides.

On this week’s Monday, violent clashes erupted between police on either side of a contentious border point, Lailapur.

Assam’s Chief Minister, Himanta Sarma, announced on Twitter that members of the state police were killed by Mizoram forces “while defending the constitutional boundary".

The neighbour state’s home minister, Lalchamliana, said Mizoram policemen responded “spontaneously by firing back" at Assam police officials after they “forcibly crossed" a post manned by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

Meanwhile, both Chief Ministers argued on Twitter, blaming each other for the violence and seeking the Centre’s intervention.

Six Assam Police personnel and a civilian died at the Assam-Mizoram border Monday while around 50 others, were hospitalised.

It started in June

On June 30, with tensions between Assam and Meghalaya flaring, Mizoram accused Assam of encroaching upon its land in the Kolasib district. Assam also accused Mizoram of building structures and planting betel nut and banana saplings allegedly ten kilometres inside Hailakandi district in Assam.

Following this, the Assam Police allegedly took control over an area known as ‘Aitlang hnar’ about 5km from Vairengte, and accused Mizoram of encroaching on its territory.

A team of officials from Hailakandi rushed to the border but was stopped by Mizo encroachers and forced to return.

Amid growing tensions, officials of both states held discussions to find a peaceful solution. Assam officials, however, refused to withdraw from the area.

On July 10, there were reports of crop and betel nut trees belonging to a Mizoram farmer being damaged during an “eviction drive” at Buarchep near Phainuam village. Simmering tensions culminated in a grenade attack that was allegedly hurled on an Assam government team visiting the border by unknown people.

On July 25, tensions escalated further after eight farm huts belonging to Mizo farmers burned down.

An agreement merely on paper

The two states had in the 80s signed an agreement that status quo should be maintained at no-man’s land set up in the boundaries.

While Assam sees its claimed boundary as transgressed, Mizoram cites unilateral moves by Assam inside Mizoram territory. It alleges that in June last year, Assam officials entered Mamit district and visited some farms; that miscreants entered Kolasib district and burnt down two farm huts.

Last October, Assam Police officers allegedly visited Saihapui ‘V’ in Mizoram and threatened to blockade the inter-state highway. Later that month, the inter-state highway as well as the National Highway connecting the two states was blockaded by individuals at Lailapur in Assam. In November, bombs exploded at Upper Phainuam Lower Primary School in Mizoram. A peace meeting was held between the two states.

Not yet over

According to a report by Times of India, bunkers built by suspected Mizo trespassers just across the inter-state boundary in Barak Valley’s Karimganj district and an allegedly massive mobilisation of state forces by Assam to counter the move kept the border pot boiling for the fourth successive day since the violence in Cachar last Monday.

Locals claim that seven kilometres inside Assam border, these bunkers have developed in Ratabari’s Bubirband area. (Picture: Niloy Bhattacherjee)

Residents told News18 that in the last 48 hours, two houses have been captured, and scared people are seeking for more security in the area.

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first published:July 30, 2021, 09:39 IST