The Central government has assured Kuki groups that those guilty of committing violence in Manipur will face the law, but made it clear that a political solution can only be achieved after normalcy returns in the State.
Members of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum and the Manipur Tribal Forum Delhi met Intelligence Bureau (IB) Director Tapan Kumar Deka on July 7 at North Block, the Home Ministry’s offices in the capital.
The meeting is among a series of back-channel talks which the Centre is pursuing with civil society groups from both the Kuki and Meitei communities, who have been embroiled in ethnic violence since May 3, in which more than 140 people have been killed and nearly 60,000 displaced. A peace committee to be headed by the Manipur Governor, which was announced by Home Minister Amit Shah on June 1, is yet to take-off.
On Friday, three people were killed in fresh violence in Bishnupur district. Suspected armed miscreants fired toward the Phougakchao Ikhai Awang Leikai and Kwakta area around 1 a.m. on Friday, killing one civilian and injuring another. “However, police and security forces rushed and repelled the miscreants. It is learnt that five suspected armed miscreants sustained bullet injuries, out of which two succumbed to their injuries,” police said.
A source who attended the meeting of the Kuki groups with IB officials said that the Centre was working on both long-term and short-term solutions. The Union government is engaged in talks with 24 Kuki insurgent groups who have been demanding a separate administration for the community, since the violence erupted.
“The IB chief requested us to maintain normalcy and that a political solution can be achieved quicker if the violence ends. We said that the Meitei should act like a big brother and stop the attacks on Kuki villages first,” the source said, adding that the Kuki groups had provided IB officials with a list of 96 villages in Churachandpur that are most vulnerable.
On July 3, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh had announced that all bunkers that were set up by villages in the hill and valley districts would be dismantled. Villagers had put up defensive structures ranging from sandbags to tin sheds to protect themselves from armed gangs.
The Union government had deployed Central armed police forces and the army in these “buffer zones” in the foothills, where Kuki and Meitei settlements often lie adjacent to each other.
“The officials said they will deploy more forces in the vulnerable areas. They said civilians should disarm first,” said the source. Since the violence started, more than 4,000 sophisticated weapons have been stolen from police armouries; a little over 1,100 weapons have been recovered so far.
The Kuki representatives also demanded that they be allowed to identify the scores of bodies lying in the morgues of two government hospitals in Imphal. “Many Kuki-Zo people were killed in the first wave of violence around May 3 to May 4. Their bodies are lying in the hospitals. We requested the police and district administration officials of Imphal East and Imphal West to help us but nothing moved,” the source said.
The group also asked the IB officials to assess the “no work no pay” order issued by the Manipur government last month. “The Kuki-Zo government employees cannot go to the valley districts to resume their work due to safety concerns. We fear for our safety; we have asked if the order can be retracted,” the source said.
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Earlier, a senior BJP functionary had met the Kuki groups, which have a suspension of operations agreement with the government, in Assam’s Kaziranga, following which the blockade on the Dimapur-Imphal National Highway-2 was removed on July 2.