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Centre open to withdrawal of forces from Manipur
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 11
In an apparent move to defuse the tension prevailing in Manipur, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil today said the Centre was “open” to withdrawal of the Assam Rifles from the hill state.

Refusing to set any timeframe for the withdrawal, Mr Patil said such a move had to be worked out in a manner that does not demoralise the forces.

“The Assam Rifles has carried out its duties properly in the state. But if the people of Manipur have a problem with the force, we can move the troops from there. However, it is not something which can be done today or tomorrow,” he told mediapersons after inaugurating a National Institute of Disaster Management building here. The Home Minister ruled out any differences with Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the issue, saying he was confident that the latter never said the Assam Rifles cannot be moved out of Manipur.

Mr Patil’s statement comes a day after Mr Mukherjee said: “No it is not correct to say that there is any move to withdraw the Assam Rifles. My colleague Mr Patil has been misunderstood on this subject. It is not possible to remove this force”.

The state has been on the boil for the last one month after the custodial death of Jhangjam Manovama.

The structural command of Assam Rifles lies with the Union Home Ministry but its operational command lies with the Defence Ministry.

Mr Patil said the government was keen on restoring normalcy in the north-eastern state by taking into account the feelings of majority of people there. He said those responsible for the heinous crime which ignited tension in Manipur would not be spared at any cost.

“We are aware of the situation and are closely monitoring it... I have been informed that a court of inquiry has been set up and those found guilty have been confined,” he said.

On the demand for the dilution of the Special Armed Forces Act, he said off hand that he was not in a position to say anything.

“Whatever is required would be done, we will go by the expert opinion of those in the field,” he added.

On the threat posed by six major underground outfits operating in the North-east to boycott the Independence Day celebrations and to observe a 17-and-a-half-hour general strike, beginning August 14 midnight, the minister said, “I am not aware of any such call. I hope the people in Manipur would act responsibly considering the ground realities there and taking into account the steps initiated by the Centre in recognition of their demands.”
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