Just days before polling, two killed in fresh violence in Manipur

Following the brutal killings becoming public, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF) has condemned in the strongest terms the killing of two Kuki-Zo village volunteers “by central security forces;” the ITLF alleged that it was the central security forces who aided Meitei militants by firing and shelling tribal positions in Phailengmol area of Manipur's Kangpokpi district on April 13; meanwhile the Committee of Tribal Unity, a Kuki-Zomi group based in Kangpokpi district, called for a 24-hour shutdown in the district on Sunday.
File Photo | NDTV

In a violent flare-up with brutal consequences, after a period of relative peace lasting over 40 days, two persons were killed on Saturday morning in an area at the border of Meitei-majority Imphal East district and Kuki-Zomi-majority Kangpokpi district. Unfortunately, Kuki-Zomi organisations identified the victims as Kamminlal Lupheng (23) and Kamlengsat Lunkim (22), both residents of Kangpokpi.

The state police said that ‘additional state and central forces have been rushed in’ to control the possibility of any further escalation.

Corroborating the killings, a senior police officer has confirmed to The Indian Express that there was firing in the area, and said two persons are suspected to have died but the bodies haven’t been found yet. Purported videos of the killings — police said the videos are prima facie from Saturday — showed the bodies being stamped on, disfigured and dragged.

Meanwhile the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), which is a conglomerate of Recognised Tribes in Lamka, Outer Manipur has claimed in a statement that a “combined team of Arambai Tenggol and UNLF militants has been attacking tribal areas since yesterday and openly posting about their activity on social media.”

Elaborating on the incident the ITLF states that “when clashes broke out today between the two sides, central security forces posted nearby resorted to firing heavily (witnesses said it was raining bullets) towards the hills. They also fired mortars, which killed Kamminlal Lupheng (23) and Kamlengsat Lunkim (25) and forced other volunteers to retreat from their bunkers. Meitei militants then went inside the hills and discovered the bodies – one inside a bunker and another laying nearby.”

The ITLF statement may be read here:

It is unfortunate that citizens of Manipur from marginalised communities are raising serious questions about the behaviour of the Central security forces who are deployed to maintain peace and remain neutral, have caused suspicion and alienation among sections of the population, that too ahead of the Lok Sabha election. The moot question being raised in this statement raised by Pagin Haokip, Chairman, ITLF and Muan Tombing, Secretary, ITLF is how “were the Meitei militants able to cross the buffer zone freely and defile the bodies of the deceased?”

This renewed bouts of targeted killings are a matter of grave concern for many tribal villagers who, after almost a year of being displaced, have recently resettled in the area. ITLF also condemns the barbaric treatment of the bodies – the deceased were dragged on ropes, their faces stomped on and sprayed with bullets, and their arms hacked off with machetes. The body has demanded that the security forces retrieve the bodies and hand them over to their families as soon as possible.

According to further reports in The Indian Express, there was heavy cross-firing between two armed groups at about 8 am. The incident took place in an area under the jurisdiction of Maphoudam police station in Imphal East district, where the districts of Imphal East, Kangpokpi, and Naga-majority Ukhrul meet. The newspaper has also reported that the Committee of Tribal Unity, a Kuki-Zomi group based in Kangpokpi district, called for a 24-hour shutdown in the district on Sunday.

Saturday’s killings come less than a week before polling takes place for the Inner and Outer Manipur Lok Sabha seats in most of the conflict-hit parts of the state. The campaigning has been muted so far but was looking to pick up, especially with Union Home Minister Amit Shah expected to arrive on April 15.

On Friday, April 12, at least two people from the Meitei community were injured in a gunfight which broke out in the adjoining areas of Tengnoupal and Kakching districts. The renewed flare-ups over the past two days come after the longest period of relative peace the state has witnessed in the 11 months after violence broke out on May 3 last year.

The last major flare-up was on February 27, when members of radical armed Meitei group Arambai Tenggol abducted two police personnel — including an Additional Superintendent of Police — and attacked the ASP’s residence after police arrested some of its members in connection with the theft of vehicles.

Earlier that month, two people from the Kuki-Zomi community were killed as security forces used force against a crowd that stormed the offices of the SP and the DC over the suspension of a constable from the community.

Killings just before Shah visit to Manipur

That the killings took place just before Union home minister Amit Shah’s visit, is a reflection that communal violence simmers just below the surface as in this instance, , with gunmen allegedly belonging to Meitei group, Arambai Tenggol shooting down at least two Kuki-Zo defence volunteers in Phailengmola, abutting Kangpokpi and Imphal East districts.

Shah’s visit in Manipur comes after almost 10 months after the conflict gripped the north-eastern state. The latest flare-up raises questions about the stability and security of the region, even as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a recent speech claimed to have contained the conflict through the Centre’s timely intervention – a claim that a large section of civil society in Manipur dismissed as far from the truth.

Meanwhile, the state police said that “additional state and central forces have been rushed in” to control the possibility of any further escalation. Manipur will go to polls in two phases – April 19 and 26 – for its two Lok Sabha seats Inner Manipur and Outer Manipur.

Other reports state that the latest conflict began in Kamu Saichang village in Kangpokpi which is in close proximity to Meitei-dominated villages in Moirangpur in Imphal East. Meiteis mostly populate the valley, while tribal groups like the Kuki-Zo inhabit the adjoining hills.

“The area where the gunfight happened is the border between Kuki and Meitei villages of the two districts. It happened in the jungle area of the abandoned village on both sides. Security forces rushed to the hills where the gunfight happened. Currently, the situation is under control,” official sources told Hindustan Times

Ever since May 3, 2023, when a “Tribal Solidarity March” in the hills led to clashes between the Kuki-Zo and Meitei communities, the state has been in a state of virtual curfew, with restricted mobility and the rise of armed vigilante groups within communities.

Incidentally, Meiteis have organised themselves under the banner of groups like Arambai Tenggol and United National Liberation front (UNLF). The Meiteis form almost 53% of the state’s population, whereas the tribals, comprising mostly Nagas and Kukis, form around 40% and reside mostly in the hills.

On Monday the shoot-out, reported TOI, followed an incident where a civilian got injured in a clash between armed volunteers of the two communities in Heirok village in Thoubal district on Friday. The gunfight lasted for an hour after a few intruders attacked a village. Similar violence was also reported on Thursday last week when an armed mob set fire to a saw mill near Pallel in Kakching district (April 11).

After the Sunday April 14 violence, the Kuki-Zo Intellectual Council (WKZIC) accused “a combined team” of Arambai Tenggol, UNLF, the Bihar Regiment of the Indian Army and Border Security Force (BSF) of killing of two community volunteers. It said that Kuki volunteers were killed in the process of enquiring about the alleged grabbing of Kuki land and illegal sand mining by Meitei militants in Songphel village.

“Unfortunately, they were ambushed by the Meitei militants on their way between Kamu Saichang and Songphel village; exchange of fire took place at around 8:30 a.m and at around 10:30 a.m; the central security (Bihar regiment) personnel sided (with) the Meitei militants and started shelling mortars against the Kukis which killed two volunteers,” the WKZIC said, adding that the dead bodies were mutilated “inhumanly”.

The Kuki-Zo council also appealed to the home minister to “protect and defend” the rights of Kuki villagers, who it said, were fleeing their villages in light of the incident for security reasons, even as the state forces have created several checkpoints every few kilometres as part of poll preparations.


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