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Updated: May 11, 2010 10:42 IST

Naga blockade pushes Manipur into economic crisis

IANS
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Manipur Police commandos fire teargas shells to disperse civilians in Mao, about 30 km. from Kohima, capital of Nagaland. File photo: AP.
Manipur Police commandos fire teargas shells to disperse civilians in Mao, about 30 km. from Kohima, capital of Nagaland. File photo: AP.

The northeastern state of Manipur is in the throes of a breakdown with hospitals putting on hold all routine surgeries due to non-availability of oxygen cylinders while stocks of all essentials, baby food, and life saving drugs have almost dried up.

An indefinite economic blockade for the past one week enforced by various Naga tribal groups to protest the Manipur government?s decision not to allow separatist leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his birthplace has literally brought the state to a halt.

Hundreds of trucks carrying essentials and medicines were stranded in the adjoining state of Nagaland with protesters laying a siege on National Highway 39 ' the lifeline of Manipur ' to protest the state government's decision not to allow Mr. Muivah, general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) separatist group, to visit his birthplace in Ukhrul district, about 220 km from Mao.

'We have stopped all routine surgeries from today (Monday) with supplies of oxygen cylinders getting exhausted,' Y. Mohen, superintendent of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), told IANS.

RIMS is the only medical college and hospital in Manipur and the biggest healthcare facility in the state of about 2.4 million people.

Landlocked Manipur depends on supplies from outside the region with trucks from the rest of India carrying essentials passing through Nagaland.

'The blockade has resulted in acute shortage of food, medicine and other essential commodities in the state and very soon the entire life support system in the state would collapse,' said Babloo Loitongbam, leader of Human Rights Alert, a leading rights group in the state.

The group sent an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday seeking his personal intervention.

'A litre of petrol is selling at Rs.200, a cooking gas cylinder for Rs.1,500, while a kilogram of rice is selling at Rs.60 to Rs.70,' Sunil Singh, a local resident, said.

Items like baby food and other essentials were becoming scarce.

Simmering tension continues in the bordering areas between Manipur and Nagaland after security forces on Thursday killed three people and injured 70 more in clashes with Naga protesters who wanted Mr. Muivah to travel to his birthplace.

The Manipur government had banned 75-year-old Mr. Muivah's trip to his home village, saying it could stoke unrest. Mr. Muivah has since deferred his visit.

A police spokesperson said several areas in Manipur's Senapati district, dominated by Nagas, have blocked the highway by resorting to sit-in protests leading to disruption in road communication between Manipur and the rest of the country.

'It is nothing less than anarchy in Manipur now,' said T. Singh, a college teacher.

The NSCN-Isak-Muivah (NSCN?IM) has been operating a ceasefire with New Delhi since 1997 with the two sides holding close to 60 rounds of peace talks aimed at ending one of India's longest running insurgencies.

The Manipur government maintains the ceasefire with the NSCN-IM does not extend beyond Nagaland and hence Mr. Muivah's visit to Manipur was not acceptable.

The NSCN?IM had earlier demanded that all Naga-inhabited areas in the northeast, including Manipur, be integrated by slicing off parts of three neighbouring states to unite 1.2 million Nagas and create a Greater Nagaland.

The demand is strongly opposed by the states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

The violent insurgency in Nagaland has claimed around 25,000 lives since the country's independence in 1947.

Keywords: Economic chaos

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