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Army and Assam Rifles intensify peace campaign in violence-hit Manipur

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Imphal, May 28 (Hindustan Times). Army and Assam Rifles have intensified peacekeeping operations in violence-hit Manipur. The army has started moving slowly, consolidating its hold in New Keithelmanbi village surrounded by dense forest, about 40 km from the capital Imphal. Army and Assam Rifles personnel on Friday reached a village in Kangpokpi district on the edge of the Imphal Valley and started searching for illegal weapons.

For the past few days, communities have been bent on killing each other with firearms. An air gun and a country-made pipe gun with empty packets of cartridges and a huge cache of explosives have been recovered in a surprise raid at New Keithelmanby village. Armed vigilante groups are taking the law into their own hands in the wake of caste riots in parts of Manipur. This was complicating the peace process.

According to a military official, efforts are on to restore normalcy in the state while dealing with such elements. The Indian Army and the Assam Rifles have decided to conduct surprise search operations in villages belonging to various communities. Army sources have clarified that no particular community is being targeted during this period. New Keithelmanbi village is adjacent to National Highway-37, which is Manipur’s only lifeline at present.

According to military sources, this action was taken on the information of the people of As village having firearms and explosives. The main objective of the army is to protect the highway so that no untoward incident takes place there. Around 250 trucks are using this route to carry essential commodities daily. Bunker and ditch have been constructed in this village situated on the hill. Empty packets of cartridges have been found near a bunker. The road from the hill above the village was completely blocked by trees and bushes. Access was open from the highway. The search operation was videographed.

Meanwhile, a woman (whose house was searched) alleged that the security personnel used to harass her in the name of search operation. Army officials have denied any such allegation. Officials say that the raid was done on the basis of intelligence. The platoons that were sent included women personnel from the Assam Rifles to ensure that the women whose houses were searched were safe.

Violent clashes broke out in Manipur on May 3 after a ‘tribal solidarity march’ was organized in the hill districts to protest against the demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status by the Meitei community. The violence was triggered by the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserved forest land. Due to this tension spread and agitation started.

The Meiteis constitute about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and mostly live in the Imphal Valley. The tribal Nagas and Kukis constitute 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts. More than 70 people have lost their lives in the ethnic conflict. Around 10,000 army and para-military personnel had to be deployed to bring back normalcy in the northeastern state.