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No end to Manipur violence amid use of looted weapons

The Meiteis’ demand to remove Kukis from the ST list is not well-intentioned.

No end to Manipur violence amid use of looted weapons

OMINOUS: Distrust between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei people is growing by the day. PTI



MP Nathanael

Former IG, CRPF

ABOUT nine months after the outbreak of violence in Manipur, a three-member team landed in Imphal recently to hold talks with the warring factions. The team was led by AK Mishra, the interlocutor between the government and former Kuki insurgents; he has reportedly been visiting the Imphal valley at regular intervals during the past few months.

Violence continues unabated in the state. Between January 16 and 19, seven persons, including two Manipur Police commandos and a member of the India Reserve Battalion (IRB), were killed by militants. They reportedly used sophisticated weapons like rocket-propelled guns while attacking the security forces at Moreh on the India-Myanmar border. This place in Tengnoupal district is largely inhabited by Kukis and has lately been the scene of encounters between Kuki insurgents and the security forces — the Manipur police, Assam Rifles, the Border Security Force and the Central Reserve Police Force.

The epicentre of the violence shifted to Moreh after two men of the Kuki tribe were arrested for allegedly murdering the Subdivisional Police Officer of Moreh, Chingtham Anand Kumar, in October last year. The Kuki community claims that the two are innocent. The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum, a conglomerate of 13 Kuki-Zo tribes, has termed the allegation as a blatant lie.

With over 210 persons killed and more than 65,000 displaced since May last year, the return of normalcy remains a distant dream. While the Kukis are afraid of entering the valley, lest they are killed, the Meiteis avoid visiting the hill districts. Distrust between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei people is growing with every passing day. Such was the fear among the Kukis that they did not dare to enter Imphal to collect the bodies of their loved ones for several weeks. On the intervention of the Supreme Court, the bodies were transported to Churachandpur and Kangpokpi by helicopters, following which mass burials were arranged.

The Arambai Tenggol, a radical organisation, called all Meitei MLAs and MPs to assemble at the Kangla Fort in the heart of Imphal on January 24. Almost all of them arrived at the fort and took an oath to convey their demands to the Central Government. These demands include: (i) the replacement of Assam Rifles with any other Central paramilitary force (they claim that the force has been partisan in dealing with the situation); (ii) withdrawal of the Suspension of Operations (SOO) agreement with the Kuki rebel outfits; (iii) removal of Kuki-Zo tribes from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list; (iv) complete fencing of India-Myanmar border, which would nullify the existing Free Movement Regime (FMR); (v) implementation of the National Register of Citizens; and (vi) deportation of Myanmarese refugees to Myanmar or Mizoram, which has been sheltering them so far.

With a membership of over 50,000, Arambai Tenggol (meaning dart-wielding cavalry) is known to enjoy the patronage of Chief Minister Biren Singh and the titular king of Manipur, Leishemba Sanajaoba, a Rajya Sabha MP. They have been reported to be moving on motorbikes in a black uniform in the valley, brandishing weapons looted from police camps in east Imphal. Of the about 3,500 weapons looted from the Manipur Police Training Centre, Manipur Rifles camp and the IRB, and another 1,000 looted from Churachandpur and Bishnupur police stations, just about 1,500 have been recovered, while the remaining continue to be in the wrong hands. About 20,000 of the 6.5 lakh rounds of ammunition that were looted in the first week of May last year have been recovered so far.

Another radical outfit, Meitei Leepun, founded in 2015 on the lines of the Young Mizo Association of Mizoram, has also been active in the state. With a strength of about 14,000, the outfit led by Pramot Singh claims to protect Meitei interests.

After a meeting with Union Home Minister Amit Shah earlier this month, CM N Biren Singh said the Centre would take important decisions in the interests of the state. Three days later, the Home Minister announced that the entire 1,643-km stretch of the India-Myanmar border would be fenced, thereby putting an end to the FMR which came into effect in 2018.

Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio has opined that the border fencing issue calls for detailed discussions before its implementation. Mizoram CM Lalduhoma, too, has opposed the fencing of the border, stating that the kin of Mizos live across the border and the people freely move to meet each other. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) has opposed the move on the same grounds. It remains to be seen how the Centre will tackle the contentious issue.

While the FMR may just be one of the solutions to the unending violence that has roiled the state, there are other issues that call for immediate attention. The demand of Meiteis to remove Kukis from the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list is not well-intentioned. It is provocative as the Meiteis have been demanding ST status, which sparked violence last year following an order of the Manipur High Court.

The disturbed situation in the state warrants that a retired IPS officer or Army officer (of the rank of Lt General), with experience of having served in the North-East, be appointed Governor. A Governor from another state would be viewed as an impartial referee, who would be able to give sane advice to the warring parties, the security forces and the state government and suggest amicable solutions to problems that may arise from time to time.

#Manipur


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