Manipur turmoil ethnic clash, not counter-insurgency: CDS Chauhan
The ongoing turmoil in Manipur is primarily an ethnic clash and is not related to counter-insurgency, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan said on Tuesday.
The ongoing turmoil in Manipur is primarily an ethnic clash and is not related to counter-insurgency, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Anil Chauhan said on Tuesday, three days after the state’s chief minister N Biren Singh said 40 Kuki “terrorists” were killed by forces and characterised the fresh violence as one between militants and security personnel, not between communities.
Chauhan also told reporters in Pune that the challenges in the northeastern state, which has been on the boil since violence first broke out on May 3, have not disappeared, but expressed hope that the situation will settle down in some time.
“This particular situation in Manipur has nothing to do with counter-insurgency and is primarily a clash between two ethnicities. It’s a law and order kind of situation and we are helping the state government,” Chauhan, who was in Pune to review the passing out parade of the 144th course of the National Defence Academy (NDA), said.
At least 80 people have died and another 40,000 displaced by ethnic violence between the tribal Kukis, who mostly reside in the hill districts, and the Meiteis, the dominant community in Imphal Valley. On Monday, Union home minister Amit Shah arrived in the state to defuse the tension that flared up last week after a brief lull.
The CDS also said that armed forces were deployed for counter-insurgency operations in Manipur before 2020. But, he added, the forces were withdrawn later as the situation in the state normalised and the challenges along the northern border increased, an apparent reference to China.
“The army and Assam Rifles were deployed in Manipur before 2020. Since the challenges of the northern borders were far more, we were able to withdraw the Army. Since the insurgency situation had normalised, we were able to do that… But right now, we are in a different situation altogether, trying to separate the communities fighting because of ethnic issues,” he added.
The CDS expressed hope that the situation in the northeastern state will settle down in some time.
“I would like to say that the armed forces and Assam Rifles have done an excellent job and saved a large number of lives. The challenges in Manipur have not gone, they have not disappeared. It will take some time but hopefully the issue should settle down and the state government will be able to do its job. Our focus then will be back to deal with the challenges which have not yet disappeared along the northern border. That’s important for us,” Chauhan said.
Clashes between the Kukis and Meiteis first erupted on May 3 during a protest against a proposed tweak to the state’s reservation matrix, granting scheduled tribe (ST) status to the latter. 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 and international borders. The authorities quickly clamped a curfew and suspended internet, pumping in additional security forces to force a break in the spiraling clashes. Internet is still not back in the state.
Since then, the state has witnessed sporadic violence, with the army and paramilitary forces along with state police scrambling to restore normalcy.
On Sunday, Singh had said that 40 Kuki militants were killed in a coordinated security operation in Imphal valley in four days and that the latest round of conflict was “not between communities, but between Kuki militants and security forces”.
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”.
Singh said that the crackdown was against Kuki militant groups that in 2008 had signed a suspension of operations agreement with the Centre and the state government confining their cadres to designated camps.
But Singh’s statements triggered outrage among Kuki groups and community leaders, who pointed out that the state government had unilaterally walked out of the tripartite pact earlier this year, and blamed two radical Meitei groups – Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun – for the violence.
In a statement on Monday, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a Kuki organisation, said: “Such serious claims (that 40 Kuki militants were killed) cannot be made without proper evidence... We demand that he (CM) provide the names of those ‘militants’ and the groups they belong to.”