Clashes erupt in Manipur again, 2 feared shot dead

By, New Delhi
Jun 30, 2023 12:20 AM IST

The victims allegedly died in a shootout with the villagers; one of the attackers was injured but was taken along by the rest.

Armed attackers fired at villagers in Manipur’s Harothel village early on Thursday morning and at least two people died, officials aware of the incident said, marking the end of a brief lull in deaths that had lasted a fortnight and fuelled hopes that violence in the northeastern state was ebbing.

Crowds at the site of the firing in Manipur’s Harothel village. (HT photo)
Crowds at the site of the firing in Manipur’s Harothel village. (HT photo)

The incident – just around 20km from Imphal – highlighted the challenges facing administrative and military efforts to restore normalcy in a state that has been rendered asunder by ethnic violence. The ebbs and flows of the attacks, against the background of deep-rooted divisions in the state, also highlight the threat posed by well-armed groups that target specific locations and then lie low.

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The two people allegedly died in a shootout with the villagers; one of the attackers was injured but was taken along by the rest. The attackers also fired at security forces when columns of personnel were rushing to the village in the morning. “Own troops deployed in the area immediately mobilised to prevent escalation of the situation. While enroute to the site, own columns drew effective fire from armed rioters,” the official SpearCorps handle of the army said.

“Unconfirmed reports indicate some casualties. Build up of large crowds in the area also reported. Situation being closely monitored and further details will follow,” it added. At least three people were reported to have been injured.

At least 115 people (excluding Thursday’s casualties) have died and nearly 40,000 displaced in the ethnic clashes which first erupted on May 3 in Churachandpur town after tribal Kuki groups called for protests against a proposed court-ordered tweak to the state’s reservation matrix, granting scheduled tribe (ST) status to the majority Meitei community. Violence quickly engulfed the state where ethnic fault lines run deep, displacing tens of thousands of people who fled burning homes and neighbourhoods into jungles, often across state borders.

Tensions between the dominant Meitei community, which largely lives in the Imphal valley and comprises 53% of the population, and the Kuki community, which lives in the hill districts and makes up 16% of the population, continue to simmer.

Officials believe the attack may have been planned because in the last two days, intelligence agencies picked up chatter of people moving towards the village who were heard asking for “samaan” (material) to be supplied and “ten additional cadres” to be sent to their location.

While there were reports that one of the deceased was a merchant navy officer from Imphal, police or the security forces did not confirm the casualties or their identity.

At around 4pm, when security forces were conducting searches in the village, they again heard sounds of automatic gunfire from two directions – at 4pm from K Munlai village and at 5.15pm from Bethel village. Harothel village is sandwiched in the north by K Munlai and in the south by Bethel. Till late Thursday night, security forces were conducting searches in the three places, including Harothel.

“Buildup of mob in the area to interfere with operations by Security Forces effectively controlled. At approx 4pm, troops deployed in the area heard firing from East of village K Munlai. Further, at approx 5.15 PM, exchange of fire reported from direction of village Bethel, south of National Sports University. Own columns are dominating the area to de-escalate the situation,” SpearCorps tweeted at 7.50pm.

Officials said that Thursday morning’s incident was almost similar to the incident that was reported in Khamelok village on June 13, when nine people were killed in a gunbattle with villagers. In the fortnight that followed, reports of clashes poured in from across the state but there were no casualties.

An official, who was aware of Thursday’s attack at the village, said, “This morning the forces saw flashes and heard sounds of gunfire at Harothel. It was before sunrise so the flashes were seen clearly. The village was attacked from three different directions. So the troops posted at two locations-- National Sports University and K Munlai moved towards Harothel, but they were fired upon by the miscreants.”

The attack comes against the backdrop of renewed efforts by the administration to end the violence and gain a grip on law and order in the state.

Union home minister Amit Shah last week held an all-party meeting and chief minister N Biren Singh this week handed out relief material while announcing a one-time assistance programme

Security forces in the state are having to deal with instances of mobs led by women stopping them from working.

The army on Monday released a video that put together purported visuals from a number of operations and levelled four serious allegations – that women activists were helping rioters flee, interfering in operations during the day or at night, disrupting the movement of logistics, and digging up the entry to the Assam Rifles camp to cause delays.

The attack further reinforced the urgent need for conciliatory touches and for the government to press the accelerator on the peace process, to bridge differences between communities. The state administration must try to gain the upper hand on miscreants and ensure law-and-order is not disturbed.

(With inputs from PTI)

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    Prawesh Lama covers crime, policing, and issues of security in Delhi. Raised in Darjeeling, educated in Mumbai, he also looks at special features on social welfare in the National Capital.

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