The Manipur government on Thursday (May 4) issued shoot-at-sight orders to contain spiralling violence in the state between tribals and the majority Meitei community which has displaced over 9,000 people from their villages.
Fifty-five columns of the Army and Assam Rifles had to be deployed to contain widespread rioting. More troops are being brought in from Nagaland by road while the IAF is flying in reinforcements from Guwahati and Tezpur, defence officials indicated.
Urging people to maintain peace, Chief Minister N Biren Singh said, “Precious lives have been lost, besides damage of properties, which is very unfortunate”, without giving any details of the number of dead or injured.
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Multiple sources said the fighting between communities had left more than a score of people dead and several scores more injured. However, the police were unwilling to confirm this.
A defence spokesperson said, “The situation in Moreh and Kangpokpi has been brought under control and is stable. All efforts are underway to restore normalcy in Imphal and Churachandpur.”
The Army also kept some 14 columns on standby for deployment in case the situation flared up once again, the defence spokesperson had said earlier in the day.
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Sources said more than 6,000 soldiers had already been deployed to stop rioters from attacking people, however, the number could not be officially verified.
Shah holds meetings
Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday held meetings with top functionaries of Manipur and central governments through video conference to review the situation there besides talking to Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh, as well as with chief ministers Neiphiu Rio (Nagaland), Zoramthanga (Mizoram) and Himanta Biswa Sarma (Assam), sources said.
The Manipur government also appointed retired IPS officer and former CRPF chief Kuldiep Singh as its security advisor, they added.
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The Centre on its part air-lifted teams of the Rapid Action Force (RAF), a specialised force to handle riots, for deployment in violence-hit areas of the Northeastern state.
Internet services including mobile internet, have been suspended for five days across the state with immediate effect to prevent disturbance of peace and public order, a Home department order said on Thursday.
Clashes broke out on Wednesday which intensified overnight, after Naga and Kuki tribals organised a Tribal Solidarity March to protest moves to give scheduled tribe status to the majority Metei community.
The shoot-at-sight order issued by the Governor of the northeastern state said all magistrates could issue the order when all options of persuasion, warning and reasonable force “have been exhausted and the situation could not be controlled”.
The army and Assam Rifles staged flag marches in Khuga, Tampa, Khomaujanbba areas of Churachandpur. Flag marches were also carried out in Mantripukhri, Lamphel, Koeirangi area of Imphal Valley, and Sugnu in Kakching district on Thursday, the defence spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said of the more than 9,000 people rescued, some 5,000 people have been shifted to safe homes in Churachandpur, while 2,000 people each were similarly evacuated in Imphal Valley and the border town of Moreh in Tengnoupal district.
The Tribal Solidarity March was organised by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) in the 10 hill districts of the state on Wednesday to protest the demand of non-tribal Meiteis, who account for 53 per cent of the state’s population, for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
The march was organised by tribals who account for about 40 per cent of the states population after the Manipur High Court asked the state government last month to send a recommendation to the Centre within four weeks on the demand for ST status by the Metei community.
During the march in Torbung area of Churachandpur district, an armed mob allegedly attacked people of the Meitei community, leading to retaliatory attacks in the valley districts, which escalated the violence throughout the state, police said.
Many shops and houses were vandalised, and gutted in arson that lasted for more than three hours in Torbung, they said.
Manipur chief minister Singh said the violence was the result of “misunderstanding” in the society.
“The state government is taking all steps to maintain the law and order situation and additional para-military forces have been requisitioned to protect the lives and properties of the people,” he said.
“Central and state forces have been directed to take strong action against individuals and groups who are indulging in violence,” he said.
Mizoram CM speaks to Singh
The Chief Minister of neighbouring Mizoram, Zoramthanga, wrote to Singh, expressing concern over the violence.
“As the Chief Minister of Mizoram, a lifelong neighbour that has much in common with Manipur in terms of history and culture, I am deeply pained by the violence that has flared up in parts of your State and the underlying tension between the Meitei community and the tribals there,” he wrote in the letter.
Singh said he spoke to Zoramthanga on the phone and apprised him of the present situation.
Curfew has been imposed in Meitei-majority Imphal West, Kakching, Thoubal, Jiribam, and Bishnupur districts, and tribal-dominated Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, and Tengnoupal districts.
In the Imphal valley, houses of Kuki tribals were ransacked in several areas, forcing them to flee, police said.
Over 500 residents of the Kuki-dominated Langol area in Imphal West fled their homes, and are currently staying at the CRPF camp at Lamphelpat, police said.
Some places of worship were also set on fire in the Imphal valley Wednesday night, they said.
Meanwhile, around 1,000 Meiteis of the tribal-dominated Churachandpur district fled to various areas of Bishnupur district, including Kwakta and Moirang, they said.
Over 20 houses were also burnt in Motbung area of Kangpokpi district.
Violence was also reported from Moreh near the Myanmar border in Tengnoupal district.
Lawmakers of the valley have earlier openly endorsed the demand by some Meitei organisations for ST status, alarming communities who figure in the Scheduled Tribe list.
The Meiteis inhabit the valley, which accounts for about a tenth of the former princely states land area. They claim they are facing problems because of “large-scale illegal immigration by Myanmarese and Bangladeshis”.
The hill districts which account for much of the states land are inhabited mostly by tribals — including the Nagas and Kukis who are mainly Christians — and are protected from encroachment by various laws.
The neighbouring Nagaland government said it is keeping a close watch on the prevailing law and order situation in Manipur and has opened a helpline for the citizens of the state requiring evacuation from Manipur.
“A close watch is being maintained on the prevailing law and order situation in Manipur and the safety and security of people from Nagaland presently in Manipur and Imphal City,” a Nagaland Home Department press release said.
6 dead in Imphal
Meanwhile, at least six persons injured in clashes in Imphal have reached Kohima and are undergoing treatment in different hospitals, Nagaland Home Commissioner Abhijit Sinha said.
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma too directed state government officials to evacuate students of the state studying in various educational institutions in violence-hit Manipur. Over 200 Meghalaya students are studying in Manipur, an official said and plans are afoot to airlift them, the official said.
The Meghalaya government is also putting in place a helpline number for students studying in Manipur or their family members to reach out to in case of emergencies.
Reacting to the violence, the principal opposition party Congress on Thursday alleged “Manipur is burning” as the BJP has created fissures among communities with its “politics of hate”.
The party’s chief Rahul Gandhi called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to focus on restoring peace and normalcy in the state.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge appealed to the people of Manipur to exercise restraint and let peace prevail.
Deeply concerned about Manipur’s rapidly deteriorating law and order situation.
The Prime Minister must focus on restoring peace and normalcy. I urge the people of Manipur to stay calm.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 4, 2023
“Manipur is burning. BJP has created fissures among communities and destroyed the peace of a beautiful state,” Kharge said on Twitter.
In another tweet, Gandhi said he was deeply concerned about Manipurs rapidly deteriorating law and order situation.
“The Prime Minister must focus on restoring peace and normalcy. I urge the people of Manipur to stay calm,” he said.
(With agency inputs)