Tensions are running high in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland after over a dozen civilians were gunned down by soldiers who mistakenly believed some of them were militants, officials said on Sunday.
Six laborers were killed in the state’s Mon district on Saturday as Indian forces set up an ambush after receiving intelligence about movement of insurgents, according to officials.
As protests erupted in the area, Indian forces opened fire at villagers and killed seven more civilians.
Local media reports said at least two army vehicles were torched by the protesters. Authorities have also suspended mobile internet services in the region.
Thavaseelan K, the top administrative officer in Mon, told Anadolu Agency that 13 fatalities have been confirmed so far.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio ordered an inquiry into the killings.
“The unfortunate incident leading to killing of civilians at Oting, Mon is highly condemnable … Appeal for peace from all sections,” he said on Twitter.
The Indian army said the botched operation had been planned “based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents.”
“The incident and its aftermath are deeply regretted. The unfortunate loss of lives is being investigated at the highest level and appropriate action will be taken as per the course of law,” read a statement.
It said one soldier was killed and several others injured in the violence.
India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said he was “anguished” and that the government “will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families.”
Another official of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the army’s attack on laborers was a “case of mistaken identity.”
“We know six civilians were killed in the initial incident and the rest died in what has followed. What is also being investigated now is how the death toll spiked after the incident,” said Temjen Imna, president of the BJP’s Nagaland chapter.
Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s main opposition Indian National Congress party, called for a “real reply” from the government over the “heart-wrenching” incident.
“What exactly is the Home Ministry doing when neither civilians nor security personnel are safe in our own land?” he said on Twitter.
India’s northeastern regions, which border Myanmar, China and Bangladesh, have several armed groups that are fighting government forces for objectives ranging from greater autonomy to complete independence.