We don’t recognise legitimacy of buffer zones in Manipur: Meira Paibi leaders in Delhi

The Meitei women’s collective says buffer zones are unconstitutional; calls for Assam Rifles to be replaced in Manipur, claiming it has been infiltrated by “Kuki militants”

September 13, 2023 09:42 pm | Updated September 14, 2023 07:42 am IST - NEW DELHI

Members of the Meira Paibi, a Meitei women’s collective in Manipur, stage a protest in Imphal on September 2, 2023. File

Members of the Meira Paibi, a Meitei women’s collective in Manipur, stage a protest in Imphal on September 2, 2023. File | Photo Credit: PTI

Leaders of the Meira Paibi, a Meitei women’s collective in Manipur, on Wednesday said they do not recognise the legitimacy of buffer zones in the State, created by the Central and Manipur government. Such buffer zones are “unconstitutional”, said the women’s group that has often clashed with Central security forces during the last four months of ethnic conflict.

The women leaders, who addressed a press conference in Delhi on Wednesday, also stepped up their opposition to the Indian Army’s Assam Rifles and other Central security forces currently posted in Manipur, calling for them to be replaced with other units. 

The women added that buffer zones are created at international borders and not within the country.

This comes a day after the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), one of the most influential Meitei civil society outfits in the State, issued a public statement alleging that the Indian Army had allegedly colluded with “Chin-Kuki Narco-Terrorist Groups” to invite and indirectly fund the fact-finding team of the Editors’ Guild of India. 

Opposing Central security

While the Indian Army is yet to respond to the allegations levelled by the COCOMI on September 12, Meira Paibi leaders in Delhi justified their continued opposition to Central security forces in the State. 

Lourembam Nganbi, 70, a Meira Paibi leader and president of the AMKIL (United Mothers to Protect Manipur), said, “If 60,000 security forces cannot keep the peace, the government should just pull everyone out.”

Sometime in early June, buffer zones started to be expanded along the foothills of Manipur, where most of the fighting was underway. The buffer zones were to be manned by Central security forces - separating the Kuki-Zo population in the hills from the Meitei community in the valley. 

This arrangement was agreed upon after consistent allegations from the Kuki-Zo community that the Meitei-heavy State police forces were complicit in the violence against them. Despite the buffer zones, however, violence has continued to rage in the foothills.

Bias allegations

Over the last three months, however, security officials have insisted that “civilian women’s groups” have been obstructing them from doing their duty and were in some cases also preventing the forces from reaching areas where fighting was underway. 

Responding to allegations of bias and complicity in the violence, Ms. Nganbi said, “We are being targetted and defamed as part of propaganda. We have risen time and again to protest for justice and peace. And we have a long history of protesting not just against the Army, but the Centre, the State government and the police.”

Ms. Nganbi cited instances of clashes with Central security forces throughout the ongoing conflict to allege that “Kuki militants” had purportedly “infiltrated” the Assam Rifles, arguing that this was why the “Assam Rifles is clearly favouring the Kukis”.

Excessive force

Chanthoi, another Meira Paibi leader from the Sugnu village, alleged that the Central security forces have been using excessive force to deal with their “protests”, also adding that two of these protesters were killed by security forces in the recent clashes at Pallel on September 8.  However, the police had said at the time that the people killed in the incident were “miscreants” and that the Central security forces were responding to firing by the mob. 

The Kuki-Zo community, on the other hand, has alleged that members of underground Meitei outfits had “infiltrated” the Manipur police and were allegedly attacking their settlements “disguising themselves as State police”. Such an allegation had also come up with regard to Monday’s incident, where three Kuki-Zo men were shot dead while on their way to a hospital. 

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