The Manipur government is once again mired in a blazing row over the killing of six suspected militants by security forces. Family members of the dead and rights groups claim it was a "fake encounter" and that the six were innocent civilians.
Six people - two on a motorcycle and four others in a vehicle - were killed late Tuesday near Awang Khunou village in Imphal West district.
A police spokesperson said a gunfight took place after the two motorcycle-borne youths and the four people in a Tata Sumo refused to stop when asked to do so by a security patrol on the highway.
"They (motorcycle borne youths and the four in the Tata Sumo) opened fire at the security team and in retaliatory attacks the six people were killed," police chief of Imphal West district L Kailun said.
Four of the six killed have since been identified by their families who claim they were innocent civilians - two earned a living selling mobile phone recharge vouchers, another a rickshaw puller and the fourth a driver.
"My son is innocent and had gone with his business partner on a motorcycle to collect money from customers to whom they had sold mobile recharge cards. I can vouch the two of them had no militant links and it was a fake encounter," Chaoba Devi, mother of one of the two motorcycle borne youths, told IANS on Thursday.
There were protests and sit-in demonstrations in the area with locals forming a joint action committee demanding a judicial enquiry into the incident.
"It was definitely another instance of fake encounter as four of them are totally innocent," Mani Singh, a community leader, said.
Manipur is in turmoil since July 23 following the alleged fake encounter death of 27-year-old Chongkham Sanjit and a pregnant woman in the heart of capital Imphal.
The immediate provocation for the string of protests was the publication of a set of photographs that punctured the security forces' claim that they had killed a youth following a gunfight.
The photographs clearly revealed that Sanjit, was taken inside a pharmacy by security forces in capital Imphal unchallenged and later his dead body was brought out.