Manipur: Security Forces Finalise Counter Strategy Even As Militants Seek To Keep Ethnic Pot Boiling In State

Jaideep Mazumdar

May 29, 2023, 05:42 PM | Updated 05:42 PM IST

A Meitei house set on fire by Kuki militants in Imphal East
A Meitei house set on fire by Kuki militants in Imphal East
  • Accounts from senior state, army and Assam Rifles officers pieced together by Swarajya suggest that the operations against Kuki militant will be intensified by security forces
  • A large number of well-armed Kuki militants, backed by many Kuki community members and Church organisations who are demanding a separate state for Kukis, have been carrying out attacks on Meiteis in order to keep the ethnic pot boiling in strife-torn Manipur. 

    Armed with M-16, sniper and AK series rifles, these militants have been sneaking up to areas with a mixed Meitei-Kuki population in the peripheral areas of Imphal Valley and in Meitei-inhabited pockets of some districts in the hills dominated by Kukis. 

    They have been firing at Meiteis and burning down their houses with the intention of triggering retaliatory attacks on Kukis by Meiteis. 

    The security forces--Army, Assam Rifles and CRPF--as well as the state government have rightly identified these Kuki militants--chief minister N Biren Singh prefers to call them ‘terrorists’--as the biggest hindrance to Manipur’s return to normalcy. 

    The security forces have launched coordinated operations in the outlying areas of Imphal Valley, especially the foothills, to flush out these Kuki militants. 

    Since Thursday (May 25), the security forces have conducted intensive combing operations in Leitanpokpi and Yaingangpokpi (Imphal East district), Serou and Sugnu (Kakching district) and Torbung (Churachandpur district).

    The militants have even engaged with the security forces and fired on the latter. In retaliatory firing, over 40 militants have been killed. 

    The operations, top officers of the Dimapur-based 3 Corps (also called the ‘Spear Corps’) told Swarajya, will be intensified now. 

    What The Kuki Militants Aim To Achieve

    As has already been elaborated in Swarajya (read this), Kuki militants organisations who are backed overtly and covertly  by community bodies and NGOs that have strong links with a section of the Christian Church want to cleanse all Kuki areas of Meiteis. 

    They also know that this ethnic cleansing will trigger backlash from Meitei organisations that will attack Kukis in Meitei-dominated areas and areas with a mixed population, especially in the peripheral areas of Imphal Valley. 

    And that will result in an exodus of Kukis from those areas to safe havens (Kuki-majority areas) in the hill districts of the state. 

    The Kuki militants and the radical Kuki bodies, as well as Kuki politicians of all hues, want to project this forced ‘exchange of population’ (Kukis migrating away from Meitei areas and vice versa) as a fait accompli that, they believe, will strengthen their demand for a separate state for Kukis. 

    That is why these radical Kuki organisations have backed Kuki militants and encouraged them to attack Meiteis over the last one week. Despite the heavy presence of the Army, Assam Rifles, CRPF and BSF in the state, the Kuki militants have mustered the courage to carry out attacks on Meiteis. 

    “Kuki militants have never been known to be so bold. And after the 2008 ceasefire agreement with the Kuki militant outfits, they (the militants) have been very inactive. They also didn’t have access to sophisticated arms,” the Brigadier-ranked officer of ‘Spear Corps’ told Swarajya

    That is why the attacks on Meiteis by these Kuki militants, and even their audacity to engage with security forces, has evoked serious concern among the Army and Assam Rifles brass and the state government. 

    According to senior state officers, Kuki militants exchanged fire with Army and Assam Rifles troops at Sugnu (Kakching district), Kangvai (Churachandpur), Kangchup and Khurkhul (Imphal West district), Sagolmang and Nungaipokpi (Imphal East district) and YKPI (Kangpokpi district). 

    All these are rural and semi-rural areas surrounded by forests and most have a mixed population of Kukis and Meiteis. 

    Kuki militants exchanged fire with security forces at Kadangband and Singda areas of Imphal West district Saturday (May 27) night. 

    An assistant sub-inspector of police and three civilians were shot dead by Kuki militants at Laijing village in Kakching district Sunday (May 28). 

    Kuki militants also set fire to over 300 houses belonging to Meiteis in Napat, Serou and Sugnu areas of Kakching district in the wee hours of Sunday, prompting a huge exodus of Meiteis to safer areas in Imphal Valley. 

    This triggered retaliatory attacks by Meitei mobs on Kukis in five villages with a mixed population in Sugnu areas of Kakching. The mobs burnt down houses belonging to Kukis. 

    Kuki militants came down to Yaingangpokpi in Imphal East district Sunday, fired on Meitei villagers and set two Meitei houses on fire. 

    Kuki militants carried out similar attacks on Meiteis and their properties at Phoubakchou Ikhai, Torbung and Kangvai Bazaar in Bishnupur district Sunday morning. 

    Chief Minister N Biren Singh said Sunday afternoon: “The sudden spurt in violent attacks on civilian houses in the peripheral areas of Imphal Valley over the past three days is well-planned. Those trying to break the state and disrupt peaceful coexistence between communities are enemies of all the 34 communities residing together in Manipur”. 

    Singh added; “This is a challenge to the state and its integrity. The government will not allow disintegration of Manipur and will protect the state’s integrity. We will uproot and neutralise these armed terrorists”. 

    But Kuki organisations, including the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) have contested the Chief Minister’s allegations and asserted that no Kuki militant has carried out attacks on Meiteis or exchanged fire with security forces. 

    Influential Kuki bodies like the ITLF which are closely aligned with the Church have claimed that all Kuki militants are in their designated camps (camps they are supposed to keep themselves confined in after the 2008 ceasefire agreement). 

    But there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The more than 40 militants who have been killed by security forces are all Kukis. Security forces have identified more Kuki militants and organisations that have carried out attacks on Meiteis. 

    The Kuki organisations, including NGOs, have started claiming that the operations by security forces are unfairly targeting the community.

    The Counter Strategy

    Army chief General Manoj Pande, accompanied by Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita was in Imphal on a two-day visit from Saturday (May 27) to hold discussions with chief minister Biren Singh, top civil and police officers as well as senior officers of the 57 Mountain Division headquartered at Leimakhong near Imphal. 

    Intensive discussions helmed by the Army chief were held at the headquarters of the Assam Rifles division [called Inspectorate General of Assam Rifles--South or IGAR (South)] at Mantripukhri in Imphal. 

    The IGAR (South) oversees operations of the paramilitary force in Manipur. Assam Rifles’ Inspector General (South), Major General Rajan Sharawat, and his senior colleagues, as well as the GOC of the 57 Mountain Division, briefed General Pande about the ongoing operations against the militants. 

    According to the 3 Corps officer, a comprehensive strategy to not only neutralise Kuki militants, but also to confiscate all arms and ammunition in possession of civilians, is said to have been drawn up at these strategy sessions. 

    The Assam Rifles has been tasked with stepping up vigil along the Indo-Myanmar border to prevent any further infiltration of Kukis from the neighbouring country. 

    It has also been decided to deploy drones and helicopters to identify Kuki militants and their camps, especially in the forest areas. 

    General Pande and Lt Gen Kalita discussed this strategy with chief minister Biren Singh at the state secretariat in Imphal Sunday noon. General Pande, along with Lt Gen Kalita and other senior Army and Assam Rifles officers, also met Governor Anusuiya Uikey at the Raj Bhawan Sunda.

    While the army chief left Manipur on the same day, Lt Gen Kalita stayed back in Imphal to brief Union Home Minister Amit Shah who is scheduled to reach Imphal on a four-day visit Monday (May 29) afternoon. 

    Accounts from senior state, army and Assam Rifles officers pieced together by Swarajya suggest that the operations against Kuki militant will be intensified by security forces while the state government will crack down on various organisations who are supporting these militants. 

    Vigil will be intensified along the India-Myanmar border and all existing infiltration routes will be blocked to prevent entry of not only refugees, but also militants and arms and ammunition from the neighbouring country. 

    Also read:

    --Manipur strife: The sinister agenda to deepen the Kuki-Meitei divide

    --Manipur faces grave crisis again as Kuki MLAs demand separate state

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