‘Huge mobs wielding axes, catapults’: FIRs detail armoury thefts in Manipur | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

‘Huge mobs wielding axes, catapults’: FIRs detail armoury thefts in Manipur

By, New Delhi
Jun 20, 2023 11:56 AM IST

The Manipur Police have issued regular statements about the number of weapons and ammunition recovered

Armed with axes, catapults and swords, mobs comprising up to 10,000 men and women stormed the armouries of police stations and outposts on several occasions, and fled with deadly weapons, carbines, and sophisticated guns, first information reports (FIRs) filed by Manipur Police show.

People at the site of fire in Manipur. (PTI)
People at the site of fire in Manipur. (PTI)

HT has seen at least 22 such FIRs, which paint a damning picture of a breakdown in law-and-order in the northeastern state that has been convulsed by violence since ethnic clashes between Meitei and Kuki communities broke out on May 3.

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At least 115 people have died so far even as the indiscriminate loot of weapons from police stations and outposts remains the biggest security worry for authorities.

In one FIR, the police alleged that a constable in the particular police station broke the lock of the armoury. In another FIR, the mob allegedly overpowered the police by pelting the station with stones, and attacking personnel with axes and swords. A third FIR said that a 5,000-strong mob of men and women picketed a police station, then attacked personnel with sticks and iron rods, before holding them captive for an hour-and-a-half and looting weapons.

According to the FIRs seen by HT, the looting of arms and ammunition happened in two phases — the first during the initial burst of violence around May 3, and the second on the weekend of May 27 and 28. The mobs, according to the FIRs, did not disperse even when the police fired tear gas shells, and stun grenades. They burnt case papers and also bullet-proof jackets.

While senior officials were not available for comment, the state government and top functionaries have confirmed weapons theft from police armouries in the past, and asked people to return them.

Manipur Police, too, have issued regular statements about the number of weapons and ammunition recovered. Earlier this month, the state’s security adviser Kuldiep Singh told reporters that combing operations would be launched by the army and security forces against those who failed to surrender weapons. And on the final day of his trip to the state, Union home minister Amit Shah had appealed to the people to return weapons to the police. One Manipur minister, L Susindro Meitei, even put up a dropbox outside his home with a note, “Please drop your snatched weapons here.”

“A central agency should probe these cases. The connivance of police personnel will be unearthed only when an agency from outside probes these cases. It is indeed true that there were large mobs, but it is also true that many police personnel chose not to act,” said a senior security official in the state, requesting anonymity.

The FIRs seen by HT were filed from 10 police station areas across four districts — Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal and Kakching — and dated between May 3 and May 30. From just one police station, mobs looted 811 guns and 77,000 pieces of ammunition, one FIR added.

FIR number 94 filed by a commandant of the India Reserve battalion detailed such an attack.

“On May 28, 2023 at around 3pm, I was at my office at 8th India Reserve Battalion HQ, Khabeisoi. A large number of miscreants/mobs of around 10,000 armed with weapons, catapult and iron rods suddenly surrounded the battalion and stormed the battalion headquarters,” the FIR said.

“I alerted all the men and officers of the battalion and then to defend the battalion, the available police officers warned the mob not to enter. However, the mob without listening to the warning started pelting stones and catapulting. To disperse them, the officers resorted to firing of tear gas shells and stun grenades followed by firing of live rounds in the air at 90 degrees,” said the statement of the commandant.

The mob finally fled with at least 811 guns such as AK rifles, INSAS LMG, MP5, carbon bayonets and at least 77,060 pieces of ammunition, the FIR added.

A second FIR, numbered 93 and registered at Heingang police station, showed that a second strike happened a little more than an hour later at the police training college four kilometres away.

“At around 4.10pm… 4,000 to 5,000 mob including women folk, some equipped with lethal weapons like AK and SLR attacked the Manipur police training college and overpowered not just the police personnel but also a team of Central Reserve Police Force personnel posted at the gate.” Over the next 40 minutes, the mob stole arms and ammunition from the armoury, the FIR added.

In FIR number 54, filed at the Mayang Imphal police station on May 22, it was not a mob that broke the lock of the weapon box but a constable of the same station. The constable — who stole one MP5 gun, 2 magazines and 50 pieces of ammunition — was later arrested.

“He [constable] revealed that he had stolen firearm and ammunition in the intervening night of 20 and 21th May, 2023 by breaking the door of the barrack of the escort personnel of SDPO- Mayang Imphal....” said the statement of the investigating officer.

The FIR also detailed how the mobs carried weapons such as axes, swords and catapults to storm the premises and overpower the police personnel at the entry gates.

Many of the mobs were thousands strong, the FIRs said, but didn’t identify anyone. The strength of the mobs that broke into police stations varied between 200 and 10,000. Security personnel conducting the combing operations said that most people who stole the weapons were residents of the same area.

FIR number 51 filed at Heingang police station showed that on May 28, a mob of around 5,000 men and women stormed the station at 4pm, overpowered the police personnel firing in the area, and robbed the armoury.

At the same time, even as the Heingang station was being robbed, another crowd of 5,000 men and women surrounded the Yairipok police station — roughly 28km away — and entered the police station holding “deadly weapons like sticks, iron rod”.

“A large number of people including men and women, about 5000 and above rounded the Yairipok police station from different directions and forcibly entered the police station campus holding different weapons like sticks, iron rod etc. All efforts were in vain due to the large number of unruly mob ....The unruly mob continued their activities till about 5.30pm,” said the FIR.

On May 5, a mob of 2,000-2,500 people entered the Keikol police outpost and burnt police case files of at least seven criminal cases, set arms and ammunition on fire when they were unable to break the lock, and also torched three police vehicles and seven motorcycles parked outside the outpost, FIR number 52 alleged.

The senior security official quoted above said men and women from both communities were using the looted arms and ammunition in attacking villagers. “In some police stations, many police personnel (both tribal and non-tribal groups) had taken leave and did not report for duty. Some of them were also involved in the attack. If a police constable is breaking the lock of his own station, then one can only imagine the lawless on the ground,” the official added, requesting anonymity.

Retrieving looted weapons has emerged as the top worry of security personnel, and even elicited an appeal from Union home minister Amit Shah during his four-day visit to the state earlier this month.

Manipur police say that at least 500,000 pieces of ammunition and 3,500 arms were stolen. Of this, police and security agencies have jointly recovered at least 953 weapons and 13,351 pieces of ammunition.

The FIRs accessed by HT showed that mobs took away bullet-proof jackets, helmets and even licenced guns submitted by local residents.

“In most cases, the weapons these militants are using are the ones stolen by the mob. The data of the surrendered weapons or ammunition is very low. The priority right now will be to ensure that the stolen arms and ammunition are recovered at the earliest,” said a second security force official, requesting anonymity.

Clashes first broke out on May 3 in Churachandpur town after tribal Kuki groups called for protests against a court-proposed 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. The authorities clamped a curfew and suspended internet, pumping in additional security forces to force a break in the spiraling clashes. Internet is still not fully back in the state.

Former Uttar Pradesh police chief Vikram Singh said the looting of arms and ammunition is a heinous offence and called for action against those responsible for guarding it. “It does not look like the police were prepared to defend the arms and ammunition. In a situation, such as this, those who displaced cowardice and failed to do their duty must be identified. What action has been taken against those whose job was to guard the weapons? The rule of law is supreme. Losing so much ammunition will result in losing confidence among those in the force. Action must be taken,” he said.

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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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