A day ahead of Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s first scheduled visit to Manipur since clashes erupted on May 3, the state witnessed a fresh round of violence Sunday. Chief Minister Biren Singh said around 40 Kuki militants — who he said were targeting civilians — have been killed so far by security forces while one civilian was killed by the insurgents in a village in Imphal West district late Saturday. He did not specify the period during which the militants were killed.
After the large-scale violence that engulfed the state for three days since May 3 subsided, sporadic incidents of shooting and arson had continued to take place over the past three weeks, particularly in foothill areas where the Meitei-dominated valley meets Kuki-Zomi-dominated hills.
On the intervening night of May 27 and May 28, violence broke out in multiple such areas, including Sekmai, Phayeng, Torbung, Yaingangpokpi, Serou Lamkhai and Sugnu, and continued into the day.
Following the fresh incidents of arson and clashes, authorities lifted curfew relaxations for Imphal West and Imphal East districts.
Branding the Kuki militants as “terrorists”, Chief Minister Singh told reporters, “We have launched operations against the terrorists who have been attacking civilians using sophisticated weapons like M16, AK 47 and snipers. So far, we have received reports that around 40 of them have been killed. Several others have also been captured….” He said one civilian was killed Saturday night when the “terrorists” launched an attack at Phayeng in Imphal West district and that several others have been injured across the state.
“The fight is between the state and central forces against the terrorists who are trying to break Manipur. We will take strong action. It’s not a fight between communities,” he said.
Through the day on Sunday, Sugnu — a mixed population town in the area bordering Kakching district in the valley and Chandel district in the hills — and the areas around it saw exchange of fire and arson. The road leading to the town had fast-moving two-way traffic. Leaving the town were vehicles — from private cars to buses — ferrying mostly women, children and the elderly out of Sugnu.
And flowing towards the town in assorted vehicles, were hundreds of men from other villages and towns in the valley, many of them armed with guns, catapults, and large knives, rushing to “defend” the area.
“We heard that shooting began here late at night. We don’t trust the Army and security personnel. These incidents keep going on and they can’t seem to do anything. We want to defend ourselves,” said Hemjit Laishram, who had come from Pangantabi village.
Nimai Wahengbam, a resident of Sugnu who was escorting his sister and her children out of the town, said, “The firing started around 2 am in the presence of security personnel. The reinforcements from other villages arrived around 5 am, and burned down a bridge to Kakching to prevent movement towards it.”
Till 2 pm, when The Indian Express was present at the site, heavy firing continued to take place in the area between security personnel and alleged militants even as residents continued to flee the area. Signs of “retaliatory” action were also evident, with the Kuki village Lanching burnt to the ground.
The situation remained charged with tension throughout the district, with women in large numbers assembled on the road leading to Sugnu with sticks in hand, stopping and checking the movement of vehicles.
“We want to take control because we are not happy with the Army. We want them to go back,” said R K Lakshmi Devi, who stood on the road with dozens of other women from the village at Wangoo Lamkhai. The men of the village had left for Sugnu.
The Chief Minister appealed to the women to not block the roads. “I appeal to the women folk who have come out in the streets and highways, blocking roads to refrain from doing so. How can the security forces protect the lives and properties of the public if their movements are disrupted? Please cooperate with the security forces, pray for them and pray for Manipur,” he said.
“I assure the public that the state government will wipe out the terrorists and save Manipur. Have faith in the government. Leave it to us,” he said.
Meanwhile, anger continued to be directed towards public representatives, with mobs attempting to storm the private residences of Kakching MLA Mayanglambam Ramehswar and Uripok MLA Kh Raghumani Singh on Sunday.