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Riots haven broken out after soldiers in India killed members of an indigenous tribe


Riots have erupted over the killing of indigenous people in north east India. That's where soldiers last weekend killed more than a dozen members of a local tribe. The outrage that's followed threatens a shaky cease-fire in one of the world's longest running conflicts involving Indigenous people. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: The violence began with a case of mistaken identity. The Indian Army says its troops mistook dozens of coal miners riding home from work late Saturday in the back of a truck for insurgents. The troops opened fire. Six of the miners were killed. A day later, the victim's neighbors ransacked an army camp in retaliation...


FRAYER: ...And set fire to army vehicles. Again, soldiers opened fire. Eight more civilians were killed in a weekend of fierce clashes, so was one soldier. The civilian victims are all members of an Indigenous tribe in Nagaland, a Christian area of India's remote northeast bordering Myanmar. It's where Indigenous people have been struggling for autonomy since all the way back before India won its independence from Britain in 1947.

DOLLY KIKON: The Naga people demanded that they be left alone to their own homelands and their sovereign rule. That was not to happen.

FRAYER: Dolly Kikon is a member of the Lotha Naga tribe and an anthropologist now based in Australia. She told me the weekend killings have torn apart her community. The Naga people waged an insurgency against Indian forces for about 50 years. Then, in 1997, they agreed to a cease-fire, put down their weapons, agreed to live under Indian rule. It took courage, Kikon says. And that's why these killings feel like betrayal, she says.

KIKON: These killings have shown that the Naga people's devotion and commitment to the cease-fire for dialogue, for negotiations have really been disregarded. And I think that's where the hurt and the anger lies.

FRAYER: Now, Indian officials admit these killings were a mistake. Yesterday in Parliament, India's home minister, Amit Shah, apologized...


AMIT SHAH: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: ...And promised an investigation. But a controversial Indian law might prevent the soldiers involved from ever facing prosecution. As candlelight vigils are held in Nagaland this week...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in non-English language).

FRAYER: ...Calls are growing for that law to be abolished. After laying wreaths on the coffins of the victims, Nagaland's chief minister, Neiphiu Rio, called the law draconian.

NEIPHIU RIO: This is a draconian law, so it should be removed from our country.

FRAYER: It's been on the books since 1958, but pressure is mounting on the Indian government to do more than apologise for these killings. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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