Unrest in Jiribam deepens Meetei-Kuki divide
Source: Chronicle News Service

Imphal, June 22 2024: The once tranquil district of Jiribam in Manipur erupted into violence, shattering its year-long peace amidst simmering tensions between the Meetei and Kuki-Zo communities.

The catalyst for this turmoil was the tragic disappearance and brutal killing of Soibam Saratkumar Singh, a 59-year-old Meetei farmer, on June 6 .

His mutilated body was discovered later that day, sending shockwaves through the region.

In the aftermath of the murder, the situation rapidly deteriorated.

Armed assailants from both sides set fire to several houses, escalating the conflict and resulting in the forced displacement of approximately 2,000 residents from both Meetei and Kuki-Zo backgrounds.

Adding to the chaos, suspected Kuki armed groups targeted and burnt down two police pickets and the Borobekra Forest Beat Office, further destabilising the security apparatus in the area, according to Manipur Police sources.

The Hindu reported BJP legislator Rajkumar Imo Singh vehemently criticising the top police and security officials for their alleged failure to preempt the outbreak despite receiving advanced intelligence warnings from the state government.

In a scathing statement, RK Imo demanded a thorough inquiry into the intelligence lapses and subsequent violence.

He called for stringent action against responsible officers, holding them accountable for the loss of lives, property, and the recent ambush on a state police team accompanying the Chief Minister's advance convoy in relation to the Jiribam incident.

Immediate measures must be taken by the Manipur government to identify and penalise all officers and individuals involved in these grave security failures," stressed the MLA.

He further emphasised the need for enhanced security measures to safeguard the lives and restore normalcy for the affected residents of Jiribam.

As the conflict intensifies, over 943 displaced individuals, predominantly women and children from the Meetei community, have sought refuge in seven relief camps scattered across Jiribam district.

Additionally, more than 600 people, encompassing Meetei, Kuki-Zo, and other community members, have fled to relief camps in Assam's Cachar district, facilitated by the district administration.

The strategic Barak and Jiri rivers serve as natural boundaries between Manipur and Assam, highlighting the geographic complexities that influence the region's socio-political landscape.

To address the escalating tensions, police officials from Manipur and Assam convened a joint meeting in Jiribam on June 15.They have since intensified patrolling and surveillance along the inter-state boundary, particularly focusing on vulnerable riverine stretches susceptible to further disturbances.

The collaborative efforts aim to restore peace and stability amidst growing apprehensions of prolonged conflict.

Jiribam, carved out of Imphal East district in 2016, hosts a diverse demography encompassing Meetei, Kuki-Zo, Hmar, Rongmei Naga, and other communities.

The Meetei community holds a majority in the district, including the administrative hub of Jiribam.

However, the recent violence has underscored deep-seated communal divides, threatening to unravel the social fabric painstakingly woven over years.

In a report published by the Frontline, Inner Manipur MP Professor Angomcha Bimol Akoijam emphasised that the incident in Jiribam should not be seen in isolation but as part of a broader crisis gripping Manipur since May 2023.He highlighted that prolonged conflicts expose systemic failures and suggested that the state authority must be held accountable for its role in addressing the crisis.

Prof Bimol stressed the importance of public awareness in demanding decisive government action, including prioritizing law enforcement to restore order and fostering dialogue among citizens to pave the way for peace.

Meanwhile, Rongmei Naga Council Manipur, Goinan-glong (Oinamlong) Luangrian segment, strongly condemned the brutal murder of a Meetei farmer and the abduction of a 40-year-old Kuki resident of Jiribam, by unknown assailants.

The council appealed to both the Meetei and Kuki communities to avoid escalating tensions and to collaborate on finding a solution for the welfare of Jiribam's residents.

In response to escalating violence, Chief Minister N Biren Singh cancelled his planned visit to Jiribam to assess the situation after Kuki militants ambushed his advanced security team in K Sinam village near Kotlien in Kangpokpi district along National Highway (NH) 37 on June 10.Manipur Police attributed the attack to "suspected Kuki militants", resulting in injuries to a police official and a civilian driver of the security team.

Following the incident, police conducted search operations and destroyed illegal bunkers suspected to have been used by the Kuki militants.

The chief minister condemned the attack and initiated a high-level investigation into the matter.

The Congress-led opposition has called upon both the Central and state governments to take immediate action to quell the escalating violence and ensure the safety of lives and property in Jiribam, Manipur.

This appeal comes in the wake of the Congress party's victory in both Lok Sabha seats from the state-inner and Outer Manipur - a result widely interpreted as a rebuke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's perceived silence on the ongoing violence in Manipur, which has resulted in 221 deaths and displaced over 60,000 people since May 3, 2023 .

Speaking at an event in Nagpur, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat underscored Manipur's year-long wait for peace and emphasised the urgent need for a priority resolution to the situation.

Meanwhile, the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), comprising five prominent civil society organisations in the state, strongly condemned the recent attack on the advanced security team of Chief Minister N Biren.

COCOMI alleged that the incident highlights a deepening conflict between the state government and Kuki militant groups, exacerbated by what they perceive as the Indian central security forces' complicity.

The organisation criticized the Central government for maintaining a neutral stance amid such attacks, which they argue has compromised the safety of Manipuris and undermined the state government's authority.

COCOMI further accused the Central forces of implicitly supporting Kuki groups, which they believe is fuelling further violence and instability in the region.

Regarding the evacuation of Meetei villages under the guise of safety measures, COCOMI labelled it a "tactical manoeuvre" aimed at facilitating the occupation of these areas by Kuki groups.

They lamented that under the current leadership of Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the prospect of a peaceful and prosperous Manipur has diminished.

Expressing disillusionment with the Indian government's commitment to safeguarding the integrity of Manipur and protecting its indigenous people, COCOMI called upon the residents of Manipur to take decisive action to shape their own future.

Tensions in Jiribam district have intensified following the endorsement by the Kuki Women Union of Jiribam and Tamenglong (KWUJT) of a blockade on NH 37, initiated by Kuki-Zo in response to a 'blockade' imposed by Meetei groups from Jiribam.

In a statement, the women's body alleged that the killing of Saratkumar Singh by unknown assailants was a trigger for the escalating tensions.

Meetei organisations, however, accused Kuki-Zo groups of retaliating by torching hous.

es and allegedly abducting L Thianmuang, who remains missing.

NH 37, which connects Jiribam to Imphal, has been a vital lifeline amidst frequent blockades and clashes on NH 2 (old NH 39).Recently, however, the highway presents a grim scene, with burnt-out houses lining its route and the looming threat of violence.

Blockades and counter-blockades have severely disrupted the supply of essential goods to both the hill and valley areas of Manipur.

Hundreds of trucks loaded with essential supplies from Jiribam have been stranded due to the blockade imposed by KWUJT volunteers, who prevented their movement towards Imphal.

Efforts by the CRPF and police to persuade the women to lift the blockade proved futile, leading to a convoy of approximately 140 trucks escorted by CRPF personnel being forced to return to Jiribam.

In a separate incident on June 15, miscreants set fire to two trucks carrying construction materials in Bishnupur district.

These trucks were en route to Churachandpur district, predominantly inhabited by Kuki-Zo people.

Additionally, a bus transporting CRPF personnel and another truck carrying essential commodities were also torched in Kangpokpi and Senapati districts respectively by Kuki-Zo people.

With violence unabated, the state's future appears uncertain and fraught with challenges as the state grapples with escalating tensions and the consequent disruption of daily life and commerce, The Hindu reported.

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