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Nagaland `tense but calm’; state Cabinet calls off Hornbill Festival, wants repeal of AFSPA

Kohima/New Delhi, December 7

The situation in the border state of Nagaland, where protests and rioting broke out after firing by security forces claimed 14 civilian lives, remained tense but calm on Tuesday as the state cabinet met to demand the Centre repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Demand for repeal of the act found echoes in the nation’s Parliament with National People’s Party (NPP) MP Agatha Sangma, a former Minister in the UPA Government, terming the act as “the elephant in the room which (needs to) be addressed” and seeking the “draconian” Act be repealed.

The AFSPA was enacted in 1958 to give armed forces far-reaching powers of arrest and detention after an armed insurgency started in Nagaland. Critics have maintained that the controversial law has failed to control insurgency despite giving armed forces powers to act with impunity, sometimes leading to human rights violations.

Sangma said the killing of 14 civilians in Nagaland, “reminded all of the Malom massacre” in which over 10 civilians were shot dead in Imphal “and prompted a 28-year-old Irom Sharmila to go on a 16 year-long hunger strike”.

The Nagaland cabinet which met in an emergency sitting under the leadership of Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio on Tuesday also called off the ongoing Hornbill Festival in protest against the killing, besides deciding to write to the central government on the repeal of the act, state ministers said.

The 10-day Hornbill Festival, the state’s largest tourism extravaganza held at Naga Heritage Village in Kisama near the state capital, was scheduled to end on December 10.

During the meeting, the cabinet was briefed about the action taken after firing, including setting up of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by an IGP rank officer and grant of ex-gratia to the next of kin of the deceased by the state and central governments, ministers Neiba Kronu and Temjen Imna Along told reporters.

The cabinet has directed the SIT to complete the investigation within a month, they said.

Officials said the situation in the state where people had taken to the streets in protest against the firing was “tense but calm”.

An initial report submitted to the state government on Sunday claimed the army made no attempt to ascertain the identity of the civilians returning from work on a pick-up truck before shooting them in Nagaland’s Mon district on Saturday.

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