Amit Shah to visit violence-hit Manipur today; 40 Kuki militants killed so far, says CM
Union Home Minister Amit Shah is due to visit Manipur on Monday to hold talks with stakeholders to restore calm.
At least 40 Kuki militants have been killed in a coordinated security operation in Manipur’s Imphal valley in the past four days, chief minister N Biren Singh said on Sunday, hours after four civilians and a security official were killed in fresh clashes in the violence-hit state.
The latest round of “conflict is not between communities, but between Kuki militants and security forces”, the CM said in an interaction with media persons at the state secretariat.
There were instances of militants armed with AK-47s, M-16s and sniper rifles firing at civilians, Singh said, stressing that these are not “Kuki militants”, but “terrorists”.
“State police have been conducting operations in vulnerable areas. In retaliatory and defensive operations against these terrorist groups, around 40 terrorists have been killed and a few arrested by the security forces,” Singh said.
While minister of state for home Nityanand Rai has been in the northeastern state since Thursday, Union home minister Amit Shah is scheduled to visit Manipur on Monday to hold talks with stakeholders to restore a sense of calm.
On Thursday, the army, Assam Rifles and state police began extensive combing operations in the state torn by ethnic violence. On Saturday, Army chief General Manoj Pande reached the state for a two-day visit to review the operations.
Officials said that the casualties could rise as the operations were ongoing.
“The operations are underway at several places. The number of deaths and those injured are likely to rise,” a senior state government official said on condition of anonymity.
The state has been in the throes of ethnic violence after the Manipur high court on April 27 directed that the Meities, the dominant community in the state forming 53% of population, be included in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list.
Protests, particularly by the tribal Kuki community, spread across the state, and beginning May 3, violence erupted leaving 74 people dead, over 200 injured, and more than a thousand homes burnt. Over 40,000 people were displaced in just the first three days of arson.
While a bulk of the violence happened over three days, tensions have simmered in isolated places since then, with two people killed on Sunday, and the army and paramilitary forces along with state police desperately trying to restore normalcy.
On Sunday, the CM appealed to the public not to hinder the movement of security personnel and urged them to have “faith in the government and support the security forces”.
“We have experienced hardship for so long and we will never allow the state to disintegrate,” Singh said.
Singh said that the crackdown was against Kuki militant groups that in 2008 had signed a suspension of operations agreement with Centre and the state government confining their cadres to designated camps. The agreement was signed with 25 Kuki militant groups – 17 of them are under the umbrella Kuki National Organisation, and eight under the United Peoples Front.
While the state government has blamed these 25 groups for exacerbating the violence, Kuki leaders have said that two radical Meitei groups – Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun – are responsible. They have also alleged that the army crackdown is an attempt to target the community, a claim rejected by the state government.
On Sunday, several Kuki groups including Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum refuted CM Singh’s statements and added that no member of Kuki militant groups are engaged in violence as they are in designated camps according to the provisions of the agreement.
Condemning the fresh violence, the CM said, “The spurt in violent attacks on civilian houses in peripheral areas of Imphal Valley in the past one or two days which seems well-planned is strongly condemnable. Those trying to break the state and disrupt peaceful coexistence are enemies of all the 34 communities residing together in Manipur.”
“This is a challenge on the state and its integrity. The government will not allow disintegration of Manipur, protect the state’s integrity and uproot these armed terrorists from the state,” he added.
Around 140 columns of the Indian Army and Assam Rifles, comprising over 10,000 personnel, besides those from other paramilitary forces were deployed in the northeastern state soon after the clashes erupted.
Curfew has been clamped in most parts of the state, with partial relaxations, and internet services have been shut for the past 25 days.
Security officials in the area said that the latest round of clashes began after the army commenced combing operations to disarm communities in order to bring peace.
The house of BJP MLA Khwairakpam Raghumani Singh at Uripok in Imphal West was vandalised and his two vehicles have been set on fire, a security official said.
“According to our information, firing has been reported from Sugnu in Kakching, Kangvi in Churachandpur, Kangchup in Imphal West, Sagolmang in Imphal East, Nungoipokpi in Bishenpur, Khurkhul in Imphal West and YKPI in Kangpokpi,” the official said.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Paolienlal Haokip, who is among the 10 tribal MLAs that have severed ties with the state government, said that Kuki homes were still being attacked. “Five Kuki villages were gutted in broad daylight at Sugnu. There were policemen around. That is the gravity of the situation,” he said.
“There are reports of arms being looted from the armouries of three state police battalions. We need central protection as early as possible. How can armouries of three battalions be looted unless such acts are backed by the chief minister,” Haokip, MLA from Saikot constituency in the worst-hit Churachandpur district, said.
Lalboi Hriammi, a spokesperson of the Kuki Chiefs Association, also alleged that hundreds of firearms were looted from Manipur police armouries.
“When Union minister of state for home, Nityananda Rai, met us yesterday I asked him why Article 355 was not being implemented in letter and spirit. Is it more important for the Centre to save the Biren Singh government than the lives of minority community people?” Hriammi asked.
Article 355 of the Constitution states that “it shall be the duty of the Union to protect every State against external aggression and internal disturbance and to ensure that the government of every State is carried on in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
At a press conference on May 4, Manipur officials said that there was a suggestion to impose the Article and subsequently, the Union government assigned Kuldeep Singh as security advisor to the state.
However, no Central or Manipur government official elaborated on this afterwards.