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200 Kuki-Zo Militants, Manipur Government Alerted Thrice In January About Jiribam Threats


Security forces patrol a field in crisis-hit Manipur (File)

New Delhi:

Nearly six months before suspected Kuki-Zo insurgents attacked villages and police outposts in Manipur’s Jiribam district on Saturday, the state government had written three times to the Director General of Police (DGP) asking to step up security and respond to any threat.

The state government repeatedly told the DGP to ensure tight security in Jiribam and pre-empt threats by the suspected Kuki-Zo insurgents, according to the letters. Attacks by suspected Kuki insurgents and the displacement of people from both the Kuki tribes and the Meitei community in Jiribam, however, indicate the intelligence messages from the state government have not translated into action. 

A police convoy going to Jiribam ahead of Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s scheduled visit to the district bordering Assam was ambushed by suspected insurgents on Monday. A policeman was injured in the attack.

A day before, suspected insurgents came in three-four boats in a river on the edge of Jiribam and attacked many police outposts and set homes on fire. The attack started at 12.30 am in Jiribam’s Chotobekra, on the banks of the Barak river. More 70 houses were set on fire. “… Two police pickets and Borobekra Forest Beat Office were also burnt down by suspected Kuki armed miscreants,” the Manipur Police said in a post on X.

Jiribam is 240 km from the state capital Imphal.

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“It has been reported that about 200 armed Kuki-Zo militants have moved from Churachandpur and reached Phaitol village, Old and New Kaiphundai area of Tamenglong district bordering Jiribam district,” the state government wrote to the DGP on January 15. NDTV has seen the letters.

The state government asked the DGP to respond to any threat and take steps to prevent violence.

In the second letter, sent on January 27, the state government asked the top cop to take “effective counter-measures” including taking help from the central forces.

“… Considering reports of movement of armed miscreants from Churachandpur towards Vangai Range bordering areas Jiribam, Director General of Police is request to take adequate measures to pre-empt spread of the current law and order situation to Jiribam district and to take up effective counter-measures including domination of strategic locations using central/state forces,” the letter said, and referred to shooting incidents reported on December 31, 2023 and January 1 and 21, 2024.

The state government, referring to the Kuki-Zo group Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), in the same letter said “the ITLF is reportedly considering cutting off supply lines to Imphal valley via Jiribam”. The ITLF has not given a statement on the matter so far.

On January 31, the state government sent another letter to the DGP and the Security Adviser, this time warning about a possible attempt to loot arms and ammunition from the 7 India Reserve Battalion (IRB) in Jiribam.

The letters surfaced after the Biren Singh government sought a report from the police on why villages came under attack from suspected insurgents when the state government had given several inputs nearly six months ago about the possibility of such an attack happening in Jiribam.

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Government sources said the Chief Minister was not made a part of the unified command which was set up in May last year after the outbreak of ethnic clashes. The unified command has elements from both state and central forces. This set-up should have worked to stop the 200 Kuki-Zo insurgents moving towards the hills bordering Jiribam, government sources said.

Government sources said the attack on Meitei villages in Jiribam and the ambush on the police convoy had distinctive footprints of the tactics used by suspected Kuki insurgents in the trading town Moreh bordering Myanmar. The suspected insurgents then had also ambushed Manipur Police convoys going to Moreh from Imphal, apart from attacking police forces in the border town itself. The Kuki-Zo tribes had alleged the police of targetting them in Moreh and the Biren Singh government of siding with the Meiteis.

Jiribam has a diverse ethnic composition. It had so far remained unaffected by the ethnic strife between the valley-dominant Meiteis and the hill-dominant Kukis, which has been raging in Manipur since May last year. National Highway 37 passes through Jiribam town, and so this place is considered one of the two lifelines of Manipur, the other is the highway that goes to Assam via Nagaland.

A little known insurgent group United Kuki National Army (UKNA) on April 17 claimed responsibility for an ambush on civilian fuel tankers on National Highway 37 a day before. The attack left a truck driver injured, and gas and oil leaking from the tankers. The UKNA, which is not part of the tripartite suspension of operations (SoO) agreement – a kind of ceasefire – signed between over two dozen Kuki-Zo insurgent groups and the Centre and the state, in a statement sent to the media had said the ambush was the “first offensive operation” against supply of essentials and “weaponry” to the Meiteis.

On May 5, UKNA camp commander Thangminlal Haokip was shot dead by his own bodyguard in Kuki-dominated Churachandpur district.

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Responding to the threat in Jiribam on Sunday, the state government airlifted some 150 police commandos to the district. The chopper flew six times between Imphal and Jiribam to ferry the commandos.

Over 400 people from the Meitei community have taken shelter in a school in Jiribam, while some have gone to neighbouring Assam. At least 200 from the Kuki tribes have also taken shelter in Assam.

Kuki-Zo civil society groups have claimed the Meiteis shattered a peace pact, brokered by the 39th Assam Rifles in Jiribam, with the killing of a Kuki teen in May, whose body was found in a river. The body was taken away by Tamenglong police for autopsy. Calls to the police station in Tamenglong whose personnel took the body went unanswered. Meitei civil society groups had denied involvement by anyone from their community.

On Saturday, the mutilated body of a 59-year-old farmer from the Meitei community was found in Jiribam, following which protesters gathered in interior Jiribam and set empty homes belonging to Kuki families on fire. They also burned a church. The authorities and locals managed to put out the fire before it spread to the entire building.

The next day, the suspected Kuki insurgents began their attack, burning police outposts and over 70 homes of Meitei families. The attackers carrying assault rifles took several videos and uploaded on social media and shared them on WhatsApp groups.

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Civil society groups have raised questions on the brazen display of sophisticated assault rifles and sniper guns by men in jungle camouflage uniforms, including how and from where they got the weapons. 

Most of the Meitei families were evacuated from Leishabithol, which is near the hills where the Kuki tribes are dominant, while interior Jiribam has a large Meitei presence. Members of the Kuki tribes who left for Assam are mostly those who have been living in interior Jiribam, towards the Barak River.

The ethnic clashes between the Meiteis and the Kuki-Zo tribes began in May 2023 over cataclysmic disagreements on sharing land, resources, affirmative action policies, and political representation, mainly with the ‘general’ category Meiteis seeking to be included under the Scheduled Tribes category.

Over 220 have been killed, and more than 50,000 have been internally displaced.



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