Amit Shah, in Manipur, to hold talks with all stakeholders in ethnic clashes
Shah arrived at Bir Tikendrajit Imphal International Airport for a four-day visit at 9.30 pm on Monday, a day after fresh clashes rocked the state.
Union home minister Amit Shah landed in Manipur on Monday night, aiming to defuse ethnic tensions that have killed 80 people in the northeastern state this month, even as security forces continued to fend off sporadic bursts of violence and apprehend people allegedly stealing and stockpiling weapons in the restive region.
Shah arrived at Bir Tikendrajit Imphal International Airport for a four-day visit at 9.30pm on Monday, a day after fresh clashes rocked the state and killed five people. He met chief minister N Biren Singh, members of the state cabinet, security officials, and later, governor Anasuiya Uikey, in talks that went deep into the light. Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai has been stationed in Imphal since Thursday, and army chief General Manoj Pande visited the state over the weekend.
Shah is expected to hold talks with all stakeholders over the next three days.
Manipur has been convulsed by ethnic violence since May 3, with the bulk of the clashes between the Meitei community, which constitutes the majority of the state’s population, and the Kukis, who live largely in the hill districts.
But after a period of relative calm, violence flared up in the past week with a string of clashes and shootings, culminating in Sunday’s deaths. The same evening, Singh said that state forces had killed at least 40 Kuki militants in the past four days in Imphal Valley, triggering denials and outrage from the tribal community.
The renewed violence showed why talks are important to build bridges between communities in a region defined by deep ethnic divisions. The state government, which has failed so far to bring both sides to a common ground, must focus on peace talks and confidence-building measures if it wants to defuse simmering tensions that’s fuelling instability in a sensitive region.
All sides welcomed Shah’s visit.
“This planned visit has given a sense of security to the Kuki Zo tribe. We look forward to his (Shah’s) actions and directions to end this ongoing ethnic clash between the two communities,” said a joint statement issued by the Kuki National Organisation and the United People’s Front, which represent all Kuki militant groups.
The Coordinating Committee of Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), one of the primary civil society groups in the state, also echoed this sentiment. “It (Shah’s visit) is a very positive step towards restoring peace...people of Manipur are looking forward to his profound wisdom to restore peace and normalcy.”
Shah’s visit, announced last week, is the highest-level intervention by the Centre in Manipur since May 3, when clashes broke out in Churachandpur town after tribal Kuki groups called for protests against a proposed tweak to the state’s reservation matrix, granting scheduled tribe (ST) status to the majority Meitei community. Violence quickly engulfed the state, displacing tens of thousands of people who fled burning homes and neighbourhoods into jungles, often across state borders.
Despite thousands of security personnel patrolling the streets of major cities and remote villages, curfew clamped over large swathes of the state, and internet suspended for three weeks now, the authorities have failed to muzzle ethnic passions that have often spilled over into violence and arson on the streets.
Some of that violence continued to roil the state. The army said that on Sunday, security formations in Imphal East were fired upon by unidentified groups trying to set houses on fire in three villages.
“While operating in the area, the army columns were fired upon from automatic weapons by miscreants who were trying to burn the houses. During the operation, the army apprehended 22 miscreants with weapons and other war-like stores,” said an army statement.
Five 12 bore double barrel rifles, three single barrel rifles, one double bore country made weapon and one muzzle loaded weapon were also recovered, added the statement.
This came a day after mobs barged inside headquarters of the Manipur Rifles and Indian Reserve Battalions in Imphal East and West, and also targeted the Yairipok and Nongpok Sekmai police stations in Thoubal.
Separately, at around 7.30 pm on Sunday, army personnel arrested three people in the New Chekhon area of Imphal, and recovered one INSAS rifle, 60 rounds of ammunition, one Chinese hand grenade and a detonator from a moving vehicle.
“On May 28, at 7.30 pm, one Mobile Vehicle Check Post (MVCP) noticed a suspected Maruti Alto car approaching with four passengers. On being stopped, the miscreants got down from the car and attempted to flee into bylanes of the colony,” said the army statement. The accused intended to carry out an attack on forces near the City Convention Centre in Imphal East, officers added.
A third army statement said the villages of Sugnu and Serou in Kakching district saw violent clashes late on Sunday. “Army and Assam Rifles in coordination with police, state administration and civil society organisations evacuated nearly 2,000 Meitei villagers from Serou to Pangaltabi relief camp. Similarly, nearly 328 Kuki villagers were safely evacuated to Sajik Tampak from Sugnu,” the army said.
On Sunday, Singh said that the government and army had launched a massive crackdown against armed Kuki “terrorists”, with 40 dead. He said that the crackdown was targeted against militants of Kuki groups that signed a suspension of operations(SOO) agreement with the Centre and state government in August 2008. Under the agreement, cadres of these groups were to be confined to designated camps and their arms locked.
The militant groups blame the state government of unilaterally pulling out of the agreement earlier this year when it decided to crack down on what it termed as encroachers on forest land.
Seilen Haokip, a spokesperson for KNO, denied Singh’s charge. “Security forces have carried out inspection of our camps. Cadres of our groups are not involved in this fight and no cadres of ours have been killed in the crackdown,” Haokip said.
In the wake of these incidents, curfew was tightened and reimposed in five districts -- Imphal East,Imphal West, Bishnupur, Thoubal and Kakching -- with no relaxation. Internet services have been suspended in the state since May 3.