Tirap massacre: No progress in NIA investigation even as families await justice two years on

[Tongam Rina]

ITANAGAR, 20 May: The families who lost their loved ones in the Tirap massacre have said that they are still awaiting justice as they prepare to commemorate the second year of the massacre.

On 21 May, 2019, NSCN-IM operatives assassinated 11 people, including Khonsa West MLA Tirong Aboh, in Pansumthong village near Khonsa.

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) is probing the massacre but is yet to make tangible progress as the main accused are still out of bounds.

One of the families’ members said that the families want the people of the state to remember the massacre and help the families secure justice by pressuring the NIA to carry out proper investigation.

“Public memory is short,” the member said, and reminded this daily to issue an update on the case.

While this daily could not reach the NIA, a police department source said that, since the Covid-19 pandemic, the agency has not even stepped into Tirap district.

The NIA team which was investigating the case has since been transferred out, and a new team has taken charge, but is yet to start investigation, said a state government source.

The families say that there has to be a dedicated NIA team to investigate the massacre as they sought the state government’s intervention.

A member of one of the families informed that the state government has given jobs to the next of kin of those who lost their lives, as well as monetary compensation.

“The state government led by Chief Minister Pema Khandu has done its job. Now it is on the NIA to do their job and they are not doing enough,” the family member said.

Last year, in September, the NIA had announced cash rewards for the arrest of five NSCN-IM members wanted in the massacre.

One of them is major general Absolon Tangkhul @ Rockwang Tangkhul @ Baba, who resides in Dimapur, Nagaland, but is currently reported to be in Myanmar.

Absolon Tangkhul was the operation commander for Tirap, Changlang and Longding when the massacre happened. Official sources had earlier informed this daily that Absolon Tangkhul was one of the main persons behind the assassination of former MP Wangcha Rajkumar, who was killed in Deomali on 23 December, 2007, while he was playing badminton.

Tangkhul was out on bail for Rajkumar’s murder when the Khonsa massacre was carried out on 21 May, 2019.

James Kiwang, another wanted operative, is a Myanmarese national settled in Tirap. He was a kilonser and a member of the NCSN-IM’s civil wing.

Tangkhul and Kiwang lived in Khonsa, but disappeared after the massacre.

In the NIA’s wanted list is captain Victor Tangkhul, a resident of Manipur, who is reported to be one of the NSCN-IM bosses in Tirap, Changlang and Longding.

Police sources say that he moves across the three districts, escaping arrest while carrying out groundwork for the NSCN-IM.

Colonel Apem Tangkhul, known to be the current leader of the TCL region, is also wanted by the NIA. He is also evading arrest while continuing to be the brain behind the NSCN-IM’s activities in the three districts of Arunachal.

Another operative is Rabi Wangno, a native of Dadam in Tirap. He was reportedly taken off duty by the NSCN-IM after he was caught dealing drugs, but is back in the fold.

As reported earlier, the NIA filed two chargesheets before the NIA special court in Yupia in Papum Pare district, and five persons are reported to be still in custody.

The NIA had filed a chargesheet in which it named Luckin Mashangva, Jai Kishan Sharma, Yangte Josaham and Napong Jenpi @ Jenpi. A supplementary chargesheet was later filed against Ellie Ketok.

The NIA had earlier said that “investigation has established that members of the terrorist group of NSCN-IM conspired to commit the terrorist act of killing of Tirong Aboh, MLA Khonsa and 10 others. Investigation further established that the terrorist act was a result of larger conspiracy due to opposition by MLA, Khonsa of anti-development and extortion activities of NSCN-IM in Tirap district.”

It said investigation revealed that Jai Kishan Sharma funded the NSCN-IM.

While the NIA has been reluctant to carry out aggressive investigation after the case was handed over to the agency by the state government, it may be recalled that the security forces had wound up their search operation in Tirap district within days after the massacre.

The search operation had started a day after the assassination. The search operation, which had begun on 22 May, was concluded on 29 May, 2019. Defence sources had confirmed to this reporter that the search operation had been called off, but later they retracted, saying that the operation had been intensified.

A few days after the massacre, this daily spoke to people in the area, who said that, had the state police and the security forces acted on the same day, the outcome could have been different as the killers were still near the village where the convoy had been attacked.

Those who were assassinated along with 47-year-old Tirong Aboh included his workers and close relatives Wangngoi Hakhun (35), Jalin Hakhun (33), Wangngu Hakhun (30), Gamwang Hakhun (28), all from the same family, teacher Tangro Atoa (47), PSOs Poanhang Agi (38) and Khundong Siksa (50), driver Patwang Sumpa (20), Aboh’s son Along, and nephew Matlam.

Along and Matlam were 20-year-old college students.