The death toll in the ethnic violence which has engulfed Manipur increased to 54, officials said, as life returned to a wary normalcy in Imphal Valley on Saturday with shops and markets reopening and cars plying on the roads.
However, unofficially sources placed the death toll at over a hundred and the number of injured at nearly 200.
Central minister Kiren Rijuju added his voice to the appeals for calm in the northeastern state as well as a dialogue between ethnic communities
“Many lives have been lost and there is damage to property. Whether Meiteis or Kukis both belong to the same state and need to live together.. … Society can progress only when there is peace,” Union Minister Kiren Rijiju said and called for a dialogue, on the sidelines of an event in Delhi.
Security presence which has been bolstered in Manipur by flying in more army troops and central police forces, was clearly visible at all major roads and areas as a PTI team toured the state.
Nearly 500 people, including students, were seen camping at Imphal airport trying to make getaway by air out of the strife torn state.
Several make-shift camps at various government buildings have been set up for refugees from the riots which broke out both in the Imphal valley and in the hill districts surrounding it.
Over 13,000 people have taken refuge in various shelters within the state set up by the army and state government as well as make-shift camps set up by ordinary people, while many others have fled to neighbouring states of Mizoram, Meghalaya and Nagaland.
Security forces have set up roadblocks and cordons in areas where various militant groups who seem to have joined the ethnic rioting, had engaged security forces in gunfire on Friday night.
Nearly 10,000 army, para-military and central police forces have been deployed in the state where rioting broke out after demonstrations were organized by tribals including Kukis and Nagas – Wednesday against a move to give the majority Meitei community, scheduled tribe status.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of the population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals, who include Nagas and Kukis, account for another 40 per cent of the population and live mostly in the hill districts which surround the Valley.
Meanwhile, an Assam Rifles column has been instructed to pick up all Naga students in Imphal from pick up points on Sunday for a trip back to Kohima.
Of the 54 officially declared dead, 16 bodies were kept in the morgue of the Churachandpur district hospital while 15 bodies were in Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal East district, officials said.
The Regional Institute of Medical Sciences at Lamphel in Imphal West district reported 23 dead, the official said.
Meanwhile, five hill-based militants were killed and two India Reserve Battalion jawans were injured in two separate encounters in Churachandpur district on Friday night, police said.
An encounter took place at Saiton in Churachandpur district between the security forces and the militants in which four militants were gunned down, the police said.
Militants opened fire at security forces at Torbung forcing them to return the fire. In the exchange of fire one militant was killed and two IRB jawans were injured, the police said.
A Defence spokesperson said the army brought Churachandpur, Moreh, Kakching and Kangpokpi districts under its “firm control”.
“Prompt response by Security Forces led to rescuing of civilians of all communities from various minority pockets of areas affected by violence. As a result, Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Moreh and Kakching are now under firm control with no major violence reported since yesterday night,” the PRO said.
“Total of approximately 13,000 civilians have been rescued and are currently staying in various ad-hoc boarding facilities specifically created for the purpose within Company Operating Bases & Military Garrisons,” the defence official said.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah reviewed the situation in Manipur with Chief Minister N Biren Singh and top officials on Friday, even as the Centre dispatched additional security forces and anti-riot vehicles to maintain peace there.
Trains to Manipur have been cancelled with immediate effect from Friday due to the prevailing in the state, a Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) spokesperson said.
Violence first erupted in Torbung area in Churachandpur district during the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ organised by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) on Wednesday to protest the demand of Meiteis for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
The march was organised by tribals after the Manipur High Court asked the state government last month to send a recommendation to the Centre within four weeks on the demand for ST status by the Metei community.
During the march in Torbung, an armed mob allegedly attacked people of the Meitei community, leading to retaliatory attacks in the valley districts, which escalated the violence throughout the state, police said.
While most neighboring state governments had initiated action to help and rescue people from their state studying or travelling in Manipur, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Saturday too said efforts are underway to evacuate people of the state stranded in violence-hit Manipur.
“Deeply anguished by the kind of messages and SOS we are receiving from Manipur Govt of Bengal has decided to make every effort to evacuate people stranded there in coordination with the government of Manipur. Urge everyone to maintain peace,” she tweeted.
Meanwhile, Civil rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu Saturday appealed to Manipur’s women, irrespective of their ethnic identity to act in concert to bring peace to the strife-torn state.
She also requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to visit her home state “to understand the problem” and “address them”.
Irom Sharmila also known as the ‘Iron lady’ told PTI, “Manipur is burning and I am deeply saddened seeing the sufferings of our people.I appeal to all, Meteis and tribals, to unite and end violence. Women must act like Mother Nature’ and use their power to bring back peace”. (PTI)
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