Retaliatory strike by village guards leaves nine dead in Manipur

The dead were part of a mob which had been targeting villages over the past three days; mobile towers blown up, roads blocked, say police

June 14, 2023 11:10 am | Updated June 15, 2023 10:17 am IST - IMPHAL

People in Manipur’s Khamelok area on June 14, 2023 attend the funeral procession of nine civilians who were killed in violence late on June 13, 2023.

People in Manipur’s Khamelok area on June 14, 2023 attend the funeral procession of nine civilians who were killed in violence late on June 13, 2023. | Photo Credit: PTI

Nine Meitei men were killed and 10 injured in Khamenlok, a Kuki village in Imphal East district of violence-hit Manipur, on Tuesday night, the police said.

An official said the killing was likely in retaliation for the torching of houses by Meitei groups in Kuki villages over the past three days.

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The men, who were part of a raiding mob, were likely ambushed by armed Kuki village guards between 10 p.m. and 10.30 p.m. on Tuesday while they were resting on the outskirts of Aigejang village. The dead were part of a mob of nearly 3,000, some carrying sophisticated weapons, who entered Kuki villages in Kangpokpi district over the past three days and destroyed homes, a police source told The Hindu.

The source said mobile towers were blown up and roads were blocked by women groups so that reinforcements from district headquarters in Imphal East, around 18 km away, could not reach the site over the past three days, even as the Meitei mob continued the rampage.

A police officer said that the situation was tense, and many Meitei men are said to be stuck in the hills.

The Central security forces and a column of the Gorkha Regiment deployed in Kangpokpi were outnumbered by the mob. “We couldn’t have fired as many people could have been killed, the Army too is not trained to handle civilians. We had been receiving inputs about civilians marching towards the Kuki villages, but they could not be stopped as they were in large numbers. Some of them it seemed were on a suicide mission,” said the source.

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Shivakanta Singh, Superintendent of Police, Imphal East said the nine men had bullet wounds. “Investigations are on to find out if they were killed by village guards or suspected Kuki militants. All the nine deceased are Meitei. We couldn’t find any arms on them. The nearest Meitei village is three kilometres away. The deceased belong to different villages in Imphal East,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu.

The police source said that as the Kuki villages in Khopibung, Khamenlok, Chullouphai and Aigejang continued to be torched, several meetings were held with civil society organisations and village guards to salvage the situation. “From Tuesday afternoon, the civil society groups stopped responding and a counter-attack was likely planned by the Kuki groups. It was a retaliatory attack,” said the police source.

A police officer said efforts are on to rescue the Meitei men stuck in the hills.

Kangpokpi is a Kuki-dominated area while Imphal East is a Meitei majority area. Since the ethnic violence erupted between the two communities erupted on May 3, the foothills, the areas bordering Kuki and Meitei settlements have been declared as buffer zones where Central security forces have been deployed.

Congress Legislature Party leader Okram Ibobi said that during election time, Bharatiya Janta Party leaders visited Manipur almost every other day. “Today no such leader is seen here. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not spoken a word on these killings. Representatives of ten political parties are planning to go to Delhi to demand a lasting solution to the bloody confrontations,” he said, adding that the parties wanted a special session of the Manipur Assembly to discuss the matter.

The District Magistrates of Imphal East and Imphal West had shortened the curfew period on Monday in view of the “improved law and order situation”. However, there were protests against the firing of rubber bullets and use of tear gas in the districts.

Several women staged a sit-in protest in front of the house of the late R.K. Dorendra, former Chief Minister. The house was fired upon by security personnel on Monday night when women protested the smashing of windscreens of the cars parked nearby.

Despite Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s visit to the State from May 29 to June 1 and peace overtures by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, the ethnic violence has not ebbed. More than 100 persons have been killed and more than 50,000 people have been displaced so far. More than 4,000 weapons have been looted from police armouries and despite appeals from Mr. Shah and other politicians in the State, only 1,100 weapons have been returned.

The Kukis and Meiteis have refused to be a part of the peace committee announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs on June 10.

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