New Delhi: Indian Army soldiers gunned down “a large number" of members of the insurgent Naga group the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang or NSCN(K) along the India-Myanmar border early on Wednesday morning, with no casualties reported from the Army side.
An officer on the ground said the insurgents suffered as many as 30 casualties.
The action came after NSCN(K) insurgents reportedly crossed over into India from Myanmar and attacked an Indian Army patrol at 4.45 am, the Army confirmed.
While initial reports suggested that a surgical strike had been carried out by the Army, involving a soft breach of the International Border (IB) by Indian soldiers, the Army’s Eastern command denied the claim. The Eastern Command said that its own troops had not breached the IB.
The encounter comes nearly a year after the Indian Army conducted a surgical strike against militants in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, along the Line-of-Control in Kashmir, when paratroopers of the Indian Army killed 38 terrorists.
“In the early morning hours of 27 September, a column of the Indian Army operating along the Indo-Myanmar border was fired upon by unidentified insurgents. Our own troops reacted swiftly and brought down heavy retaliatory fire on the insurgents. The insurgents then broke contact and fled from the spot. As per inputs, a large number of casualties were suffered by the insurgents," the Army said in a statement.
According to officers serving on the ground, who requested not to be named, a team of 70 Para Commandos laid an ambush after an intelligence tip-off about the presence of a group of armed NSCN(K) insurgents in the region.
“We got a tip-off from our sources on the ground and laid an ambush following which the insurgents started firing at the troops when they were alerted of the Indian army’s movements in the region. We fired back killing more than 30 militants and without breaching the border," an officer in Nagaland, familiar with the developments, stated.
“The 1,643 km-long border with Myanmar is extremely porous primarily because we have an agreement wherein people from across the border are permitted up to 16 kilometers into Indian territory for trade purposes," said a senior central government official, requesting anonymity.
Defence experts, however, said that while it was unlikely for the free trade route to be used by insurgents, it was likely to have been used for moving logistical support to the interiors, where the NSCN(K) has set up its camps.
“The broken terrain and forests along the Indo-Myanmar border allow for smooth movement of insurgents, who strike the Indian army," said H.S. Panag, a former lieutenant general in the Indian Army and defence expert.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh remained non-committal in his response.
“Myanmar has been our friend and a friendly nation for long now. We cannot make a comment on the situation because it is too soon," Singh said in New Delhi.
This is the first major strike by the group after its leader S.S. Khaplang died in June. The NSCN(K) abrogated a 2001 ceasefire agreement with India on 27 March 2015—a month before the it was scheduled to be renewed.
In June 2015, the Army launched a strike against insurgents in the North-East after NSCN(K) rebels ambushed an army vehicle 4 June, killing 18 soldiers of the Dogra Regiment in Manipur. The Union home ministry said in 2016 that there were no plans to renew the ceasefire agreement with the NSCN(K).