Bridge On Manipur's Lifeline Bombed By Insurgents, 150 Trucks Stranded

Three explosions left manhole-sized cracks on the concrete joints of the bridge in Kangpokpi district, 45 km from Imphal

Bridge On Manipur's Lifeline Bombed By Insurgents, 150 Trucks Stranded

The bridge in Manipur's Kangpokpi which was bombed by insurgents

New Delhi:

A key bridge on National Highway 2 in Manipur connecting the state capital Imphal and cities in neighbouring Assam and Nagaland was damaged in multiple bomb attacks by insurgents, the police said on Wednesday.

Three explosions left manhole-sized cracks on the concrete joints of the bridge in Kangpokpi district, 45 km from Imphal. The sound of the explosions woke up residents of nearby villages around 1 am, after which some of them went to the bridge to check the matter, the police said.

Mobile videos show the bridge largely intact, except for the three holes; however, engineers are checking the bridge's structural integrity before allowing traffic, sources said.

The sabotage has stranded over 150 trucks on the highway. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

"The intention behind disabling the bridge appears to be to stop security forces from entering the area. It also disrupted transport of essentials," a senior officer of a paramilitary force told NDTV, asking not to be named as the matter is under investigation.

The security forces carried out a combing operation in villages near the damaged bridge in the Kuki-Zo-dominated district.

In the foothills of neighbouring Sekmai, some 22 km from Kangpokpi, gunfights had been going on between armed groups for the past two days.

The attack on the bridge also comes two days before voting in the remaining seats of Outer Manipur reserved Lok Sabha constituency, amid the nearly one-year-old ethnic violence between the Kuki-Zo tribes and the valley-dominant Meiteis.

Recent Attack On Highway

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 on the highway connecting Imphal with Assam's Silchar 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 said the ambush was the "first offensive operation" against supply of essentials and "weaponry" to the Meiteis.

Civil Society Groups' Allegations

The Kuki Students' Organisation Sadar Hills (KSO-SH) in a statement condemned the bombing of the bridge that connects "Kuki areas down south from Saparmeina with Kangpokpi".

"The KSO Sadar Hills strongly believes that such act of terrorising innocent Kuki people are carried out by mercenaries that are at the fingertip of Meitei extremist groups," the KSO-SH said in the statement.

"The KSO-SH cautions all individuals who enjoy free passage in and out of Kuki areas. In case, if found an accomplice, the right to free passage in (the) Kuki area will be reconsidered," the Kuki students' body said.

The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an umbrella body of valley-based Meitei civil society groups, alleged the "devastating bomb explosion (is) suspected to be the work of Kuki militants", and demanded a probe by the anti-terror body National Investigation Agency (NIA).

"This vital artery connects India and Myanmar, serving as a lifeline for 3.5 million local populace and also for trade and connectivity throughout Southeast Asia. The targeted area was within the Kuki-dominated Kangpokpi district," COCOMI said in the statement.

The NIA had investigated a car bomb blast in Manipur's Kwakta on June 22 last year that killed a man, and had arrested a terror suspect identified as Seiminlun Gangte in September. The NIA in a statement had said Gangte was allegedly involved in a transnational conspiracy case involving terrorist leaders in Bangladesh and Myanmar, who sought to exploit the Manipur crisis.