In a fresh incident of violence, three village volunteers were killed by unidentified armed miscreants at Thawai Kuki village in Manipur’s Ukhrul district, a Naga dominated area, police said on August 18.
Days ago, an Assam Rifles (AR) unit posted near the village was withdrawn, there were no other security forces present in the area.
This is the first attack of its kind in the Naga majority district since ethnic violence erupted between the tribal Kuki and the majority Meitei community in the State on May 3. There are 14 Kuki villages nestled in the district. Earlier on June 1, an incident of arson was reported from the area when two villages were burnt down.
The village volunteers were present in their bunkers and were most probably killed in their sleep around 5 am on August 18. The bodies were mutilated, a community representative said.
The deceased have been identified as Thangkhokai Haokip (31), Jamkhogin Haokip (35) and Hollenson Baite (20).
Ningshem Vashum, Superintendent of Police, Ukhrul told The Hindu that the killers are yet to be identified but it is suspected that “Meitei militants” carried out the attack.
A defence source said that valley based insurgent groups are suspected to be behind the killings.
Mangboi Bungte, a local, said that owing to security concerns many Kuki families from nearby Kangpokpi district had sent women and children to stay in the villages in the Naga district.
“Even though no attack has taken place in Ukhrul, barring one incident of arson, the village volunteers had set up a bunker since early May. On Friday, the unidentified armed men killed the village guards in their bunker. They had multiple bullet wounds and were also attacked with sharp edged weapons,” Mr. Bungte said.
He added that an Assam Rifles unit posted around 3 kilometres from the village was recently removed owing to pressure by Meitei groups. A source confirmed that the unit was relocated on July 30 due to operational requirement.
The Meitei civil society groups and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators in the valley have demanded the withdrawal of Assam Rifles from the buffer areas, where Kuki and Meitei settlements are adjacent to each other, alleging bias and supporting “one side” only.
On August 7, the BJP State leadership submitted a memorandum to prime minister Narendra Modi that the “Assam Rifles has been charged by the public for their biased role in tackling the situation by favouring and supporting one side only.”
The Kuki groups have opposed the withdrawal of AR questioning the role of State police commandos in the present violence. More than 150 people have been killed since the violence began May 3.
There are 34 recognised Scheduled Tribes in Manipur, which comprises different kuki and Naga tribes, which put together come up to about 40% of the State’s population.