At least two people have died, and over 50 injured, in fresh violence in strife-torn Manipur today. Heavy exchange of fire between armed locals and security forces has continued since morning in Tengnoupal and Kakching districts of the northeastern state, government sources said. A dozen people have sustained bullet injuries, they said. The firing started near Pallel town, where there was a confrontation between locals and Assam Rifles personnel. Security forces used force to disperse the crowd. Women had allegedly blocked the road in the area, according to sources. Additional security reinforcement has been sent to the spot, and curfew has been re-imposed in the valley region of the state from 12 pm today.
Kukis and Meiteis, the two warring communities of the state, have blamed one another for the attack.
Visuals from the spot showed ambulances rushing to the spot and carrying the injured to hospitals. Security personnel are also inured, sources said.
According to officials, firing started around 6 am and has continued intermittently.
Kukis have claimed Meiteis dressed in military outfits attacked Pallel, after which villagers fled to take shelter at a nearby army camp. One Assam Rifles jawan and one Kuki person were killed, the said. “We’ve heard that six Meiteis dressed in military outfits have been killed. There was a peace agreement between Kukis and Meiteis in Pallel, but it was broken by the Meiteis after gunfire,” Ginza Vualzong, spokesperson of the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) said.
Meiteis have, however, claimed tribal groups could have initiated the gunfire. Two Meitei houses were burned down first, they further contested, calling it a proof that the attacks were provoked by the Chin-Kuki groups.
“Gunshots from the hill range could have been initiated and provoked by the Chin-Kuki narco-terrorist groups…It seems that this is a pre-emptive strike. It is also clearly an attempt to draw the attention of visiting G20 delegates, who are top leaders of 20 countries visiting India,” Atouba Khuraijam, spokesperson of the valley-based Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), said.
This comes two days after thousands of protesters gathered at Phougakchao Ikhai in Bishnupur district on Wednesday and tried to break through army barricades in an attempt to reach their deserted houses in Torbung.
“Tension was palpable in the area, with security forces comprising personnel of RAF, the Assam Rifles and Manipur Police firing tear gas shells to bring the situation under control,” officials told news agency PTI.
A day before the protest, a full curfew had been clamped in all the five valley districts of Manipur as a preventive measure, PTI reported.
Over 180 people have been killed, and thousands have been internally displaced, after protests against a Manipur High Court order that asked the state government to recommend Scheduled Tribe status for Meities snowballed into a full-blown ethnic conflict.
On May 3, a “Tribal Solidarity March” was organised in the hill districts to protest against the court order. This protest turned violent when Kukis and Meitis clashed near the border between Churanchandpur and Bishnupur, district, setting off the unrest that has killed many and displaced thousands.
The security forces have created what they call “buffer zones” in areas between Meitei villages and Kuki settlements to avoid the two sides from fighting again.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal valley, while tribals, including Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 per cent and reside mostly in the hill districts.