Trouble along the Assam-Mizoram border took a turn for the worse on Friday as the Mizoram government announced that it will not withdraw its security personnel from the disputed areas.
On the other hand, the agitators in southern Assam refused to call off their blockade - now in its third day - of National Highway 306, the lifeline of Mizoram, seeking withdrawal of security personnel from Assam’s territory.
The inter-state border area saw further tension on Friday after two farmers were kidnapped “by people belonging to Mizoram" while they were working at their paddy field at Tulartal village.
An Assam government release said that Environment and Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya visited the trouble-torn areas of Tulartal, Baghewala, Singua and Lailapur along the inter-state border to allay the fears of local people “being terrorised by Mizo miscreants and to reassure them that the state government is with them".
The minister urged the local people not to panic unnecessarily and said that the government is making all out efforts to resolve the border dispute.
Meanwhile, Mizoram Home Minister Lalchamliana said that his government would not withdraw its forces from the state border with Assam till normalcy returns.
Lalchamliana’s announcement came nine days after senior officials of the two neighbouring states held a series of meetings and the Mizoram government officials, according to the Assam government, reportedly agreed to withdraw their forces gradually from Assam’s territory.
The Mizoram Home Minister said that his government accepted the demarcation notified in 1875 under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation (BEFR) of 1873 as the actual boundary of Mizoram and Assam."It was a historical inter-state boundary decided long back and that had been accepted by the forefathers of Mizos," the Minister told the media.
He claimed that some local residents of Lailapur in Assam’s Cachar district “backed by Assam officials" blockaded National Highway 306 leading to Mizoram’s Bairabi village since Wednesday.
Lalchamliana said that the state government is taking steps to ensure that supply of essential commodities is not hampered. Mizoram transports all its essentials, food grains, transport fuel and various other goods and machines through this highway.
Assam’s Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Gyanendra Pratap Singh, who had reached southern Assam on Wednesday, held a series of meetings to normalise the situation. However, despite his appeal, the agitators refused to withdraw their blockade at Lailapur, leaving around 300 goods-laden vehicles stranded on either side of the border.
“The existing inter-state boundary should be respected by everyone. Necessary statutory provisions are being exploited and interactions with the Central government are being done on a regular basis," Singh said.
Deputy Inspector General of Police, Southern Assam Range, Dilip Kumar Dey said, “In the series of high-level meetings during the last two weeks, Mizoram officials had agreed to gradually withdraw their forces from the areas inside Assam territory. But, they are yet to withdraw."
Festering since October 9, the situation along the 164.6-km Assam-Mizoram border took an ugly turn with around 20 shops and houses being burnt and over 50 people injured in the attacks and counter-attacks by people on either side on October 17.
Union Home Ministry’s Joint Secretary (North East), Satyendra Kumar Garg had subsequently held a meeting with the Home Secretaries of Assam and Mizoram where it was agreed that both sides will maintain the status quo and hold regular talks to prevent any untoward incident. After these meetings, over 300 stuck Mizoram-bound essential goods laden vehicles went to the neighbouring state.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also spoke to Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Mizoram CM Zoramthanga several times to defuse the situation. Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla held a meeting, through video conference, with the chief secretaries of Assam and Mizoram.