Shillong/Guwahati, Nov 22 (IANS) At least six people, five civilians of Meghalaya and an Assam forest guard, died following "unprovoked" firing by Assam Police and state forest guards on Tuesday, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma said.
The Chief Minister said that Assam Police and forest guards entered Mukroh village in West Jaintia Hills District and resorted to "unprovoked" firing, killing the five civilians of Meghalaya.
An unknown forest guard of Assam was also killed in the firing.
Sangma said that the Assam Police and forest guards intercepted a truck carrying timber at Mukroh village and after that, a large number of people from the village reached the spot and surrounded the police and forest guards leading to the firing by the latter.
Strongly condemning the incident, Sangma said that state Home Minister Lahkmen Rymbui visited the spot and an FIR has been registered by the Meghalaya Police.
According to the Chief Minister, Thal Shadap, 45, Nikhasi Dhar, 65, and Sik Talang 55, died on the spot, while Tal Nartiang, 40 and Chirup Sumer, 40 succumbed to their injuries in the hospital.
"The Meghalaya Government strongly condemned the incident where the Assam Police and Assam forest guards entered Meghalaya and resorted to unprovoked firing. The state government would take all kinds of steps to ensure that justice is served, and action is taken against those responsible for this inhuman act," Sangma told the media.
He said that as a mark of respect and mourning for the deceased, the state government has decided to cancel all official festivals including the Shillong Cherry Blossom festival.
He also announced an ex-gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased. The state Cabinet would meet on Tuesday to decide on the next course of action.
"I appeal to all citizens of the state to pray for the departed souls and their families. I also appeal to our citizens to maintain peace and harmony in the state. The state government is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that law and order is maintained.
"We also had a meeting with traditional heads, Rangbah Shnongs and religious leaders, members of civil society and NGOs to discuss, inform and appeal for their support to stand together in these difficult times.
Meanwhile, Assam's West Karbi Anglong district's Superintendent of Police Imdad Ali earlier on Tuesday said that Forest Department officials intercepted a truck that was transporting illegal wood at around 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
"While the forest guards approached the truck to seize the illegal consignment, it tried to flee. The guards opened fire and punctured the tyre of the vehicle. Three people, including the driver and his assistant , were apprehended, but others managed to flee from the scene," he said.
The forest officials then informed the nearest police station at Zirikending and requested for additional forces. According to the police, when a team reached there, a large number of people from Meghalaya surrounded them with sharp-edged weapons.
"The angry mob demanded the release of those arrested. The police team had to open fire to control the violent mob. A forest home guard and some members of the Khasi community were killed in the firing," Ali said.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the incident, Meghalaya government has suspended mobile internet and data services for the next 48-hours from 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday in seven districts of the state - West Jaintia Hills, East Jaintia Hills, East Khasi Hills, Ri-Bhoi, Eastern West Khasi Hills, West Khasi Hills and South West Khasi Hills.
After the violent incident, several Assam vehicles were prevented from entering Meghalaya at Jorbat by police in a bid to prevent any untoward incident and public safety.