3 killed as ambush ends Manipur’s fragile peace | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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3 killed as ambush ends Manipur’s fragile peace

Aug 19, 2023 01:14 AM IST

This is the first killing in the state since August 5, when five people — three Meiteis and two Kukis — were killed in separate incidents of shooting

Guwahati/New Delhi Armed men killed three village patrol guards in a Kuki-dominated village in Manipur’s Ukhrul district in the early hours of Friday, shattering the tenuous peace established over the last two weeks in the northeastern state that has been roiled by ethnic clashes for three months.

People during a protest march against the violence, on Friday. (PTI)
People during a protest march against the violence, on Friday. (PTI)

State police said the killings occurred around 4.30am at Thouwai Kuki, a village inhabited by the Kuki tribal community around 47km from Ukhrul town, the headquarters of the district.

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Read here: Renewed violence in Manipur as 3 members of Kuki community killed

“According to our information, a group of armed miscreants approached the village from the hills located to the east of the village and started firing at village guards. Three people from the village have been killed in the incident. There are no reports of any injuries,” said N Vashum, superintendent of police (SP), Ukhrul.

The village falls on the edge of the Naga-dominated Ukhrul district and the Meitei-dominated Imphal East district.

The three deceased were identified by the district administration as Thangkhokai Haokip, 35, Jamkhogin Haokip, 26, and Hollenson Baithe, 24.

Local residents said that the three men were on patrol duty at a bunker in a village where the 50 households took turns to volunteer as guards every night.

“This Kuki village has around 50-60 houses. Though there was no violence in the village for the last three months, a bunker was set up in the village as a security measure. The three villagers were guarding the village when the armed militants caught them by surprise and shot at them,” said David Paite, a resident of the village.

He said that the bodies bore stab marks. Baithe was a college student while the two other men were farmers.

The violence mark the first killings in the strife-torn state in 13 days, breaking the fragile peace established in a state where clashes between the dominant Meitei community and the tribal Kuki community has killed at least 160 people and displaced another 50,000 people. It comes nine days after Union home minister Amit Shah told Parliament on August 9 that the violence in Manipur was ebbing and ruled out a change of guard in the state, appealing to the warring communities to come to the negotiating table.

The SP said security measures were bolstered and joint operations by the state police and the Indian army were underway to nab the people involved in the murders.

A senior officer of the Assam Rifles said that an outpost was functioning 3km from the village earlier but was shifted weeks ago. “There was another operation in which the team was needed so around three weeks ago, they were sent to another place,” the officer said, seeking anonymity.

Chief minister N Biren Singh said the restoration of peace is of “paramount importance”.

“Restoration of peace and normalcy in the state is of paramount importance. All should refrain from comments and engage in discussion that could be upsetting for another community,” the CM said in Imphal on the sidelines of an event.

This is the first killing in the state since August 5, when five people — three Meiteis and two Kukis — were killed in separate incidents of shooting between the two communities at Bishnupur and Churachandpur districts.

According to the police, the attack was unprovoked and the armed men fired intentionally at the Kuki village guards. “The killers took advantage of the dark and the trees in the jungle to flee the village. Most villagers were asleep when the attack happened,” Paite said.

The killers fired the shots from the cover of trees almost 50-70 metres away from the bunker, he added.

Clashes in Manipur first broke out on May 3 in Churachandpur town after tribal groups called for protests against a proposed tweak to the state’s reservation matrix, granting scheduled tribe (ST) status to the 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. The clashes have virtually partitioned the state between the dominant Meitei community that lives in the plains and constitutes 53% of the state’s population, and the tribal Kuki group, which lives in the hill districts and makes up 16% of the state.

The simmering violence sparked nationwide outcry last month after a 30-second video clip showed a brutal May 4 sexual assault where a group of men – a first information report (FIR) later identified them as Meiteis – were seen hooting and applauding while stripping two Kuki women and forcing them to parade naked. The barbaric clip prompted the Supreme Court to take cognisance of the case and announce that it will monitor all cases of violence against women during the ethnic clashes. The top court also ordered the setting up of a high-powered committee, comprising three retired women high court judges, that will visit the strife-torn state and report back on the efficacy of rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures.

Read here: On Kuki MLAs' letter to PM, Manipur CM says ‘everyone entitled to speak freely’

The recently concluded monsoon session was also deadlocked over the sexual assault, with the Opposition demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak inside Parliament on the Manipur violence, and the government insisting that it was ready for a debate and that Shah will respond on the floor of the House. The Opposition even brought a no-confidence motion, which was eventually defeated, against the government largely hinged on the issue. On the final day of the debate, Modi told the House that the central and the state governments were working towards peace. “I assure people of Manipur that peace will be restored soon. The country is with you. We will sit together and find a solution to the current challenge to restore peace and put Manipur on the path of development,” he said.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), a conglomerate of Kuki groups in Churachandpur district, condemned the killings and called it a “pre-planned” attack.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Utpal is a Senior Assistant Editor based in Guwahati. He covers seven states of North-East India and heads the editorial team for the region. He was previously based in Kathmandu, Dehradun and Delhi with Hindustan Times.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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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