More than 40 people were injured in a stampede at Manipur’s Bishnupur district on Wednesday as security forces fired tear gas shells to disperse over 10,000 people who had converged to demand the removal of an Army barricade. A defence source said the stand-off continued through the day. Armed miscreants fired at the Central security forces and a mob threw stones at them. Three personnel of the Rapid Action Force (RAF), a specialised anti-riot force, were injured in the incident.
The crowd had gathered at two locations within a radius of 2 km at Phougakchao Ikhai and Kwakta in Bishnupur.
The presence of the barricade, placed in a buffer zone at Bishnupur-Churachandpur boundary, has been protested by the Meitei groups.
The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an influential Meitei group, had asked the youth and locals to come out in large numbers on September 6, 2023, to push the barricade further to the hill district of Churachandpur. The group said the failure of the State and Central governments to remove the barricade by August 30 was the reason behind the protest march.
The COCOMI wants the barricade at Phougakchao Ikhai on the main highway connecting Imphal and Churachandpur be removed and placed at Torbung Wangma instead.
A senior government official said armed miscreants used automatic guns to fire at the security forces deployed in the buffer zone, some of them disguised as police personnel.
Thousands marched towards the Army barricade even though Manipur administration imposed a day-long curfew in all the five districts of the Imphal valley on Wednesday.
When the crowd at Kwakta was stopped by the joint columns of the Central security forces and the Army, a mob retaliated by throwing stones at the security personnel, the defence source said. Around 4.15 p.m. on Wednesday, armed miscreants fired with automatic weapons at the security forces. “The security forces fired tear gas shells to disperse the mob, but few people including women were injured in a stampede,” said the defence source.
Earlier, the Manipur government appealed to the COCOMI to cancel the protest.
Minister Sapam Ranjam said the government had removed many of the barricades already and around 700 displaced people of the Torbung area, who were taking refuge in various relief camps, started to come back and resettle in their original houses, which had not been damaged, during the past few days.
The area has seen frequent clashes between the tribal Kuki-Zo and the Meitei communities. A police armoury was looted on August 3 at Narainsena in Bishnupur. Recently, as many as eight persons were killed and 29 injured when clashes erupted between the two groups between August 29 and September 1.