Moreh, Manipur: CCTV footage supports claims of locals, show men in uniform indulging in arson, Assam Rifles personnel standing as mute spectators

Fire brigades from Myanmar helped extinguish the fires, nothing but ashes left of three schools
Image: Sourav Roy Barman | ThePrint

The state of Manipur keeps on burning while violence goes unchecked even eight months after conflicts erupted. While on January 21, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi took to ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) to congratulate the North-eastern state of Manipur on their Statehood Day, violence engulfed the district of Moreh in Manipur, suffering through an arson spree.

This was the PM’s post: “On Manipur’s Statehood Day, my best wishes to the people of the state. Manipur has made a strong contribution to India’s progress. We take pride in the culture and traditions of the state. I pray for the continued development of Manipur.”

While PM Modi wished for continuing development of Manipur, having mentioned the name of the violence hit state after months, CCTV footage showing Manipur Police commandos setting fire to homes and leading an arson attack in Moreh district on January 17 surfaced. The said footage also depicted Assam Rifles personnel standing as mute spectators, substantiating the claims being made by the Moreh residents. It is essential to note that these flames were then controlled by the fire brigade of Myanmar.

As per the report in thePrint, January 17 was a hectic day for the fire brigade department of Myanmar’s Tamu town as they were attempting to douse the roaring flames at three schools, an equal number of shops, one Christian assembly hall, and at least 17 houses which had been set ablaze. As per the report, the 10-odd members of the Manipur fire brigade stationed in the town were struggling to douse the flames using the four engines at their disposal as the nearest water refilling point was four kilometres away. As stated by a resident of Moreh to a reporter from thePrint, had the fire engines from Myanmar not come to their rescue, over 50 houses would have been gutted and the spreading of the flames would have spread.

The report also contains the statement of an anonymous official of the Manipur fire department, who said that “Three fire engines came from Myanmar around 3 pm. They returned after some time. It took us two days to douse the fire.”

Allegations raised by the locals:

The incident was also accompanied by claims of the residents of Moreh that the said fire was started in the localities by men in uniform, alleged to be Manipur Police commandos, while the Assam Rifles personnel looked on, which has now been confirmed by the CCTV footage.

As per the allegations raised by the Kuki, Nepali, Tamil and Bihari residents of the town, the commandos of the Manipur Police carried out the aforementioned acts of arson after entering their houses between 12 pm and 3.30 pm on January 17. These acts were committed hours after the killings of Wangkhem Somorjit, an India Reserve Battalion (IRB) commando attached to Manipur Rifles, and havildar Takhellambam Saileshwor by suspected Kuki militants who attacked multiple security posts in the town.

In line with the assertions made by the residents, the CCTVs installed by the local Hill Tribe Council in the area had captured videos of men in uniform, alleged to be Manipur Police commandos and Meitei radical outfit Arambai Tenggol by the local residents, opening fire in the lanes of Phaicham Veng. As per the report in thePrint, timestamps displayed in the CCTV footage appear to align with local residents’ version.

The reports provide accounts of many locals, all of whom have one common refrain: the commandos were “specifically looking for Kuki men in the houses”. As per a report of TelegraphIndia, Kuki organisations have stated that surrendered valley-based insurgents were allowed to “mix freely” with the state police.

Response by the authorities:

To the claims raised by the local residents of Moreh stating that a nexus of uniformed men, valley-based insurgent groups and Meitei militants is active in the area, Manipur Police took to X to deny these allegations. In a post on social media on January 20, the police termed the same allegations to be “baseless and misleading”.

The post can be viewed here:

As per thePrint report, the aforementioned claims of not preventing arson have been rejected by the sources in the Assam Rifles, who have stated that “fire engines of the Assam Rifles also helped douse the incidents of fire”.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Manipur Rifles personnel claimed they fired in self-defence after “Kuki village volunteers rained bullets on us”, while another Assam Rifles officer rejected charges of being a mute spectator saying the force can only get as involved as its “mandate” permits.

Former IPS Kuldiep Singh, security advisor to Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, and chairman of the unified command, has informed that a probe has been ordered into these claims.

It is pertinent to highlight here that as per Tongkhoha Zou, the principal of Bathsaide Academy, an FIR is yet to be lodged in this case, even as complaints have already been made. Thangboi Vaiphei, whose house adjoining the prayer hall was also torched, informed thePrint that the police is yet to carry out any investigation so far despite complaints.

What remains after the flames?

As per the report in thePrint, the three schools that were set alight have been reduced to nothing. The report provides that nothing remains apart from heaps of ash, charred desks and benches, piles of twisted metal and tin sheets. Notably, Mount Moreh, established in 1995, had nearly 800 students enrolled in pre-primary classes to grade X, Bethsaida Academy had 230. Where will these children go now?



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