Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh on May 28 said that about 40 extremists had been killed in encounters with security forces following attacks on unarmed civilians on the periphery of Imphal valley, the State’s power centre.
The encounters and attacks on villagers by armed groups coincided with Army chief General Manoj Pande’s two-day visit from May 27 to the violence-hit State. Union Home Minister Amit Shah is scheduled to visit Manipur on May 29.
Mr. Singh told journalists in the State’s capital Imphal that the spurt in violent attacks on civilian houses on the periphery of the valley in the past two days “seemed well-planned and simultaneous” as a show of strength.
“The attacks are strongly condemned, especially when Union Minister of State for Home Nityananda Rai is in the State and group peace missions are being formed as part of efforts to bring back peace in Manipur,” Mr. Singh said in the presence of eight Cabinet ministers.
“The terrorists are shooting civilians using M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles and sniper guns besides burning down houses in many villages. We have started taking very strong action against them with the help of the Army and other security forces,” Mr. Singh said.
“We have reports that some 40 of these terrorists have been killed by the security forces,” he said, lamenting the casualties on both sides and assuring all possible steps to bring back normalcy in the State.
“Both sides” pertain to the Kuki group of tribes and the majority Meitei people caught in an ethnic battle since May 3 triggered by multiple reasons, one of them being a Manipur High Court order asking the State government to pursue a move for granting Scheduled Tribe status to the Meiteis.
Talking tough against Manipur’s “enemies of all 34 communities” trying to break the State and disrupt peaceful coexistence, the Chief Minister said the government was firm on facing such challenges. “The government will not allow the disintegration of Manipur and uproot these armed terrorists from the State,” he added.
He also urged the people to have faith in the State’s police force, which has been conducting operations in more than 38 vulnerable areas identified so far.
Four civilians dead
At least four civilians have been killed by armed groups that attacked five areas in and around the Imphal valley since 2 a.m. on May 28, officials said. These areas are Sekmai, Sugnu, Kumbi, Phayeng and Serou.
Following the attacks, the authorities in Imphal East and Imphal West districts reduced the curfew relaxation by four-and-a-half hours from 5 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. The relaxation hitherto was up to 4 p.m.
According to local media reports, three people were killed and more than 200 houses torched in the Sugnu area of Kakching district while one person was killed in the Sekmai area of Imphal West district. Villagers claimed gunfights were going on in more areas and unclaimed bodies were lying on the streets.
Manipur has 25 extremist groups catering to the aspirations of the Kuki-Zomi people. These groups have signed the tripartite Suspension of Operations, whose conditions included confinement of the cadres to designated camps identified by the government and keeping firearms locked away.
There are at least six such groups of the Meitei people that have not inked any peace deal.
‘Dismiss BJP-led govt.’
Eight political parties in Manipur have demanded the dismissal of the BJP-led coalition government in the State for its alleged failure to control the law-and-order situation. The parties are Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Trinamool Congress (TMC), Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP).
“The BJP-led government has miserably failed to contain the outbreak of violence almost every day. This is despite the fact that the Centre has sent more security forces personnel than the State had sought. There is nothing people can expect from this lame duck government,” former Minister Nimaichand Luwang of the JD(U), and convener of the union of these eight parties, said.
He clarified that the eight parties would never compromise on issues such as a separate administration demanded by 10 Kuki MLAs, including seven of the BJP.
“We demand an immediate solution since the volatile situation has led to the blockade of two arterial national highways for almost a month. This has led to the shortage of essential commodities, life-saving drugs, and fuel,” Mr. Luwang said.
Meanwhile, the house of BJP legislator K. Raghumani Singh was vandalised and two of his vehicles were set on fire at Uripok in Imphal West district on May 28. He was the third lawmaker targeted by mobs after Public Works Department Minister Govindas Konthoujam and Union Minister of State for External Affairs Rajkumar Ranjan Singh.
Police said the mob that attacked the MLA’s house and demanded action against armed Kuki groups.
Kuki organisations, on the other hand, cited social media claims by members of two radical Meitei organisations — Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun — that they were using the arms looted from the establishments of the Manipur Police.