Manipur on edge as 13 bodies found after gunfight in village
At least 13 people were killed in a fresh incident of violence in Manipur, India, puncturing the tenuous peace in the strife-torn region once again.
At least 13 people were killed in a fresh incident of violence in Manipur on Monday afternoon — the highest single-day toll reported in the state in six months, and one that punctured the tenuous peace in the strife-torn region once again.
Security forces received inputs around noon that a gunfight had broken out between two groups at Leithao village near Saibol in the state’s Tengnoupal district. This is an area that was relatively peaceful since tension first erupted in the state on May 3, and the nearest security post is around 10km away in Saibol.
“Once our forces moved in and reached the place, they found 13 bodies in the Leithao village. The forces did not find any weapons next to the bodies,” a defence officer aware of the matter said, asking not to be named.
The officer said that it appeared the 13 people who died of gunshot wounds were not from Leithao area, and preliminary inquiries suggested they had come to the village at around 8.30am. Some of them were armed, he added. The village, which comes under the territorial jurisdiction of Machi police station in Tengnoupal district, has nine houses and around 120 residents. The residents of the village are all Kukis. A gunfight broke about between village defence volunteers (VDFs) — civilians with licenced arms who guard villages — and the gunmen.
Neither police nor security forces confirmed the identity or ethnicity of the 13 people who were killed. No casualties were reported from among the villagers.
The forces suspect that the men could even be militants from Myanmar, since the nearby hills from Leithao are a common route adopted by militants from Myanmar to enter Manipur. “The police have reached the spot. They will probe the matter,” the officer quoted above said.
By Monday night, senior police officers took custody of the 13 bodies, which were to be transported to Imphal under tight security.
When contacted, Jamkhogin Lupho, secretary of Leithao village, said that villagers first noticed the movement of militants in the vicinity on Sunday night. “Police have found the Aadhaar cards of three people, who are Manipur residents. They are from Wakching, Khurai Lamlong, and another place near Imphal,” he claimed. “It is possible that the others are from Myanmar because the village is close to the Myanmar border, and is used as a route frequently by militants. Some bodies were found in the village and others were recovered in the outskirts of the village,” Lupho added.
The village headman said residents saw more than 20 militants, some of them armed, trying to enter some houses. “Some women alerted VDFs, who engaged in a gunfight with the militants for almost half an hour. Thirteen bodies were recovered. The others fled towards the jungle. I called the Assam Rifles office, and informed them about the incident. In the evening, police also reached the village and took the bodies,” Lupho said.
HT contacted Manipur police’s director general and also sent a questionnaire, but the officer did not comment despite repeated calls and messages.
Later, police released a statement confirming the incident.
“On 04.12.2023, in a gunfight between unknown armed miscreants at Leithao village near Saibol in Tengnoupal district under Machi police station, 13 (thirteen) persons have been killed. District police and security forces rushed to the spot, a case has been registered and investigation is going on,” the statement said.
Manipur has been roiled by ethnic clashes between the Meiteis and the Kukis since May 3. The clashes have left at least 182 dead (excluding the 13 who died on Monday) and around 50,000 homeless. The largest single-day toll in the state before Monday was reported on June 14, when nine people were shot dead in different areas of Kangpokpi district.
With incidents of violence reducing in recent days, the state government on Sunday resumed mobile internet services across the state, except in the buffer zones — small areas with a radius of around 2km that connect valley districts with hill districts. The Meiteis, the dominant community in the state, largely live in valley. The Kuki tribals live in the hill districts.
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