A former leader of the Zeliangrong community, a Naga tribe that also has a considerable population in Manipur, was found dead on Wednesday after being abducted for over 24 hours allegedly by the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM).
This comes at a time when the Naga peace process based on the Framework Agreement with the NSCN-IM, which has been in ceasefire agreement with the centre since 1997, is closing in.
Athuan Abonmai, who had presided Zeliangrong Baudi (ZB), the top body of the Zeliangrong community, was found dead with gunshot injuries at a stone-crushing unit.
According to the FIR by the son, Arai Abonmai, his father left home on September 22 to attend a community outreach programme of the government to bring equal development in both the hills and valley. The programme was held at Tamenglong polo ground.
Athuan's body is scheduled to be brought back home by Thursday afternoon.
Eyewitnesses claim that Abonmai was abducted by about 20 people, who they suspect were cadre of the NSCN-IM, from the gate of the ground where the outreach programme was held.
The police had launched a massive operation to rescue him, but he was found dead the same evening.
For the crucial role that Athuan played in maintaining stability among the Zeliangrong community in both Manipur and Nagaland, while maintaining in touch with the Manipur government, his abduction had raised concerns, a government source said.
Athuan, who was found closely working with the Manipur government to better the lives of Zeliangrong people living in Manipur, had soured ties with a section of NSCN-IM, as its demand for Greater Nagalim also includes the Naga-populated chunks from Manipur besides Assam, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
Though in ceasefire at Nagaland, intelligence sources have said the outfit has been active in Manipur and south-eastern Arunachal Pradesh.
The Joint Tribes Council had earlier asked whoever is responsible for abducting Athuan to release him "safely at the earliest on humanitarian grounds".
Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh had instructed the police to conduct a speedy investigation into Athuan's death. "The Chief Minister has also asked the police to mobilise more forces to Lamphel and Tamenglong district as a whole," the source said.