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Village volunteer gunned down in Manipur violence

By, New Delhi
Jan 28, 2024 04:31 AM IST

Officials aware of the matter identified the deceased as Timlun Khongsai, a Kuki village defence volunteer who died of bullet injuries.

A 29-year-old man was killed and three others were injured in Manipur’s Kangpokpi district during a gunfight between Kuki and Meitei groups that lasted for at least six hours on Saturday, the first new fatality the strife-torn state in nine days.

Officials aware of the matter identified the deceased as Timlun Khongsai, a Kuki village defence volunteer who died of bullet injuries (HT Photo)
Officials aware of the matter identified the deceased as Timlun Khongsai, a Kuki village defence volunteer who died of bullet injuries (HT Photo)

Security forces rushed to the spot in the afternoon as reports of the gunfight emerged, prompting some unidentified gunmen to enter an abandoned Kuki village and burn down houses.

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On Saturday evening, Kuki civil society groups shared videos showing gunmen in military fatigues at the abandoned villages — HT could not independently verify the authenticity of the videos or the location.

Kangpokpi is a Kuki-dominated hill district that shares a boundary with the Imphal valley, where the Meiteis are in a majority — the two communities have been locked in a deadly confrontation since May last year, leading to the deaths of at least 200 people and forcing tens of thousands of families to flee their homes.

READ | Violence beyond ethnic strife as militants fish in Manipur’s troubled waters

Officials aware of the matter identified the deceased as Timlun Khongsai, a Kuki village defence volunteer who died of bullet injuries. The three injured, a security official said asking not to be named, were from the Meitei community and were admitted to a hospital in Imphal.

Family members of Khongsai who spoke to HT over the phone said that he had joined village defence volunteers’ group in October 2023 and was guarding the abandoned Kuki villages in the Satang hill range of Kangpokpi. The hill range shares its border with Meitei villages in Imphal West.

“We lived in Imphal until the clashes broke out. Our house was burnt by mobs in May last year when ethnic clashes broke out after which our family shifted to NG Phainom village in Kangpokpi district. We are living at our uncle’s house,” said Khongsai’s elder brother, Thangmin, who worked as a teacher at a government school in Imphal.

READ | Fresh violence in Manipur, commando shot dead in Moreh gunfight

According to Thangmin, his younger brother left home in October and joined the village guards. The tension in Manipur has led to creation of community-based armed village volunteers on both sides.

“Along with other young men, he was guarding the abandoned houses in Satang area because the place is a buffer zone and shares boundary with Meitei village. I got a call at around 6.30am on Saturday that the village was attacked by dozens of militants. My brother sustained bullet injuries and died on the spot,” the man said, adding that their father, a former headmaster, was killed by militants in 2003.

In a statement on X (formerly Twitter), Manipur police said: “One individual was killed in a firing incident between armed miscreants at Satang hill range of Kangpokpi.”

The force did not share any other details but an officer aware of the probe details said, “The firing started around 5.30am on Saturday. There was intermittent firing during the day. The situation is under control.”

Kuki civil society groups such as the Committee on Tribal Unity (Kangpokpi based) and Kuki Inpi Tengnoupal accused a particular Assam Rifles officer of leading the attack at the Satang Hill Range. There was no response from Assam Rifles on the allegations.

“The community is also baffled how Meitei militia and secessionist UNLF-MP could trespass into Kuki-Zo dominated areas in spite of the presence of central security forces,” COTU said in a statement.

In a separate development, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge wrote to Union home minister Amit Shah about a radical Meitei group that assaulted Congress MLA Keisham Meghachandra on January 24. Arambai Tenggol, which has been accused by Kuki groups of leading the violent attack, had called Meitei legislators to the capital’s Kangla fort for a meeting to take oath on protecting Manipur’s integrity. At least 36 MLAs and two MPs attended the meeting. While no legislator has filed a complaint, several have said that Arambai Tenggol leaders assaulted at least one Congress MLA and three BJP MLAs.

“It has been almost nine months since Manipur erupted in violence and the situation has only turned from bad to worse,” Kharge wrote in his letter before mentioning how the Congress MLA was “brutally assaulted and tortured”.

“Governments come and go but it is the responsibility of constitutional functionaries to ensure that democratic structures, institutions and processes are protected and preserved. Our nation has just celebrated the 75th Republic Day. Manipur is an integral part of our Republic and I urge you to take urgent action to ensure that democracy and rule of law prevails once more in a very important and valued part of our wonderfully diverse county,” Kharge said in his letter.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Prawesh Lama covers crime, policing, and issues of security in Delhi. Raised in Darjeeling, educated in Mumbai, he also looks at special features on social welfare in the National Capital.

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