On Monday, six Assam police personnel, including the Cachar district SP, were killed at the Assam-Mizoram border when Mizoram police opened fire on them, in what was one of the worst interstate border clashes in the northeast.
Monday’s development follows a meeting of the chief ministers of all eight northeast states, chaired by union home minister Amit Shah, held in the Meghalayan capital Shillong a few days earlier. Participants in the meeting discussed border disputes among several states in the region. They agreed that these issues should be resolved as soon as possible amicably.
Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma had stated that some progress had been made with Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, but tensions still existed at the border with Mizoram. Mizoram CM Zoramthanga, however, said the border disputes in the region were the legacy of the colonial era and lasting peace between states is crucial for economic development.
A decades-old border dispute
The Assam Mizoram conflict dates back decades and boils down to a territorial conflict, with the peculiar geopolitics of the north-eastern states making the issue volatile. Aizawl, Kolasib and Mamit are three districts of Mizoram that share a 164.6 km border with Assam’s Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts.
A 509-square-mile stretch of the inner-line reserve forest notified in 1875 is claimed by Mizoram to be the boundary between Mizoram and Assam. The dispute is rooted in this 1875 notification that distinguished Lushai Hills (the former name of Mizoram before it became a state) from the plains of Cachar and another of 1933 that demarcated a boundary between Lushai Hills and Manipur.
The Mizoram government has formed a boundary commission and notified the Centre of the issue. A study is being conducted to assess and determine whether its claim can be furthered. Since 1995, several dialogues have been conducted to resolve the border dispute, but none have yielded significant results.
The current build-up: A timeline
As tensions between Assam and Meghalaya flared on June 30, Mizoram accused Assam of encroaching on its land in Kolasib. Assam has also accused Mizoram of building structures and planting betel nut and banana saplings in Hailakandi district. In response, the Assam Police took control of an area known as ‘Aitlang hnar’ about 5km from Vairengte and accused Mizoram of encroaching on it.
During a rush to the border, officials from Hailakandi were held back by encroachers from Mizostan. In the face of growing tensions, officials of both states met to find a peaceful solution. However, Assam officials refused to leave the area.
It was reported that on July 10 an eviction drive damaged crops and betel nut trees belonging to a Mizoram farmer at Buarchep near Phainuam village. An unknown group is alleged to have hurled a grenade at an Assam government team visiting the border during simmering tensions. After eight Mizo farmers’ farm huts burned down on July 25, tensions escalated even more.