40 'militants' killed so far, says CM Biren Singh as fresh clashes erupt in Manipur
Security forces have so far gunned down around 40 “armed militants” who torched houses and fired at civilians, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said on Sunday (May 28).
Singh’s comments came in the backdrop of fresh clashes breaking out between armed groups and security forces in over half a dozen places across Manipur on Sunday.
The chief minister, who was interacting with the media at the state secretariat, claimed the latest round of conflict is not between communities but between Kuki militants and security forces.
Singh added that there have been cases of militants firing at civilians with AK-47s, M-16s, and sniper rifles. Security forces have taken down many of these militants in counter-attacks since they began an operation to bring peace to the north-eastern state beset by ethnic rioting.
The CM appealed to the public not to hinder the movement of security personnel and urged them to have “faith in the government and support the security forces”.
“We have experienced hardship for so long, and we will never allow the state to disintegrate,” Singh said.
He said many Kuki militants involved in killing civilians and destroying property and torching houses have been captured by the Jat regiment.
Clashes after army’s de-arming drive
The latest clashes erupted in the early hours of Sunday after the army commenced combing operations to de-arm communities in order to bring peace, officials said.
The house of BJP MLA Khwairakpam Raghumani Singh at Uripok in Imphal West was vandalised and his two vehicles set on fire, a top security official told PTI.
He said clashes broke out at several places in different districts surrounding the Imphal Valley, between militant groups and security forces, as well as between rival ethnic militant groups.
“According to our information, firing has been reported from Sugnu in Kakching, Kangvi in Churachandpur, Kangchup in Imphal West, Sagolmang in Imphal East, Nungoipokpi in Bishenpur, Khurkhul in Imphal West, and YKPI in Kangpokpi,” the official said.
New roadblocks have also sprung up in many areas manned by women, which have delayed army columns on patrol.
There was also an unconfirmed report of arms being looted from Kakching police station by a Meitei group, the official said.
History of current violence
Ethnic clashes, which have claimed over 75 lives, first broke out in Manipur after a Tribal Solidarity March was organised in the hill districts on May 3 to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
The violence was preceded by tension over the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserve forest land, which had led to a series of smaller agitations.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribal Nagas and Kukis constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts.
Around 140 columns of the Indian Army and Assam Rifles, comprising over 10,000 personnel, besides those from other paramilitary forces, had to be deployed to bring back normalcy in the north-eastern state.
(With agency inputs)