Myanmar Militants Likely In Manipur, Commandos "Sitting Ducks": State Security Adviser

Manipur Security Adviser Kuldiep Singh today alleged some militants from Myanmar may have been involved in the attack on police commandos in Manipur's border town Moreh yesterday

2 Manipur Police commandos were killed in action in Moreh yesterday

Imphal/New Delhi:

Manipur Security Adviser Kuldiep Singh today alleged some militants from Myanmar may have been involved in the attack on police commandos in Manipur's border town Moreh yesterday. He said there is a possibility of the involvement of Myanmar-based militants, but there is "no evidence" yet. Two commandos were killed in action in Moreh yesterday, 110 km from the state capital Imphal.

The situation in Manipur remains volatile. Four people including a father and a son were killed in firing by suspected insurgents today in two valley areas near the foothills. Three including the father and the son were shot dead in Bishnupur, and one in Kangchup.

"Yesterday, early morning, a large number of Kuki militants started firing at commando posts in three locations," Mr Singh told reporters today.

The Security Adviser's comments are likely to trigger protests from the Kuki tribes in the hills, who have been accusing the Manipur government of using brute force against "volunteers", who the Kukis say have been defending their villages from attacks by valley-based forces.

Mr Singh in what was seen as an admission of a shift in tactics said the commandos are at a lower elevation, and the militants have been firing from higher locations. "They (commandos) are sitting ducks. We have decided that the commandos should be located at a higher location," he said.

"PDF insurgents operating in Moreh, and maybe some reinforcements from Burma side may also attack state forces in Moreh. The state forces are prepared. Attacks have been happening for many days, but the gunfire had been coming from far areas, not nearby areas," Mr Singh said, referring to Myanmar's insurgent group People's Defence Force (PDF) that is fighting the junta.

"There is a possibility they (Myanmar insurgents) may have come, but there's no evidence. There is intelligence that PDF may join, may attack the state forces at Moreh," Mr Singh said in response to a reporter's question later in the press conference.

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"But yesterday, it (gunfire) started coming from nearby areas. The Assam Rifles along with the police commandos and the BSF did their best. But one commando was injured in the head. He died later... The forces kept on firing. After a lull in firing, another commando from the 10 IRB (Indian Reserve Battalion) was killed in action," Mr Singh said, dismissing allegations that valley-based militia dressed in police uniform have been involved in the Moreh flare-up.

Mr Singh's comments also comes a day after a school and other buildings were set on fire by unknown people in Moreh. The Kuki tribes, who are in Moreh and want the state forces to be withdrawn citing a complete breakdown of trust along ethnic lines, have alleged the state forces of harassing them and burning down buildings in the border town.

On Wednesday night, three Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers were injured in a mob attack in Thoubal district, a valley area 25 km from Imphal. The mob demanded the government send reinforcements to Moreh. They also tried to "storm" the armoury of the 3rd IRB, Mr Singh said.

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On the situation in Moreh, a stone's throw away from Myanmar's Tamu town, the Manipur Security Adviser told reporters today that the Assam Rifles - controlled by the army - and the BSF shared ammunition with the police commandos to plug their shortage.

"Later, in the evening, all the forces combined launched a counter-attack and pushed back the attackers. We have sought two more BSF companies and two columns of the army, along with four Casspirs (armoured vehicles), as reinforcements," Mr Singh said. A column or company has 100-120 troops.

Protests in Moreh

Wednesday's violence flared up two days after the police arrested two men from the Kuki community for alleged links with the murder case of a senior police officer, Chingtham Anand Kumar, on October 31, 2023.

The women's wing of the Kuki civil society group Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) held a sit-in on Wednesday demanding the release of their leaders Hemkholal Mate and Philip Khaikholal Khongsai, who the Kuki community says are innocent men caught in a case allegedly cooked up by the police.

In the protests yesterday amid the gunfights in parts of Moreh, Kuki Women's Union for Human Rights leader Ngaineikim Haokip alleged Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh does not recognise the Kuki tribes as the people of Manipur.

"... So he has no right to interfere in the affairs of the hills, which belong to the Kukis," she said, and asked the protesters to remain steadfast in their demand for a separate administration carved out of Manipur.

The Kuki civil society group in a statement said it has requested the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to take up cases of alleged rights violation by state forces in Moreh.

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Tensions between the hill-majority Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis have been lingering on eight months since clashes broke out between the two communities over disagreements on land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies.

Over 180 people have died in the violence, and thousands have been internally displaced. The two communities are sharply divided now, with people from either community not going to areas where those from the other community live.

The Manipur government maintains it is trying to uproot insurgents from the strategic border town Moreh, while the Kuki tribes in Moreh have alleged the government wants to occupy the area before a political dialogue has even started on how to end the Manipur violence.

At least 25 Kuki insurgent groups have signed the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with the centre and the state government. The insurgents are housed in designated camps. Ever since violence broke out in May last year, there have been allegations that full attendance at many of the SoO camps has not been observed.