Manipur violence: 'Vacant' hill villages fired on by armed men from the Valley
The deserted hill villages of Urangpat and Gwaltabi were attacked by armed men coming in from Yaingangpokpi at the head of the Imphal valley at noon today
A group of armed men sneaked across from Yaingangpokpi in Manipur’s Imphal East district and moved towards the hills on the afternoon of 23 June, firing automatic weapons as they targetted the Urangpat and Gwaltabi villages, local officials have said. Gunfire was first noticed around noon.
Security forces were immediately deployed to these villages, which were supposedly lying vacant as residents had already fled — which raises questions as to why the villages were fired upon at all. The security personnel were, however, cautious in their response to the firing to avoid any collateral damage.
Urangpat is in Kangpokpi district while Gwaltabi lies on the Imphal–Ukhrul road. Officials noted that a large group of women from the Meira Paibi collective were preventing the movement of additional columns of security forces into the Yaingangpokpi and Seijang areas. Their blockade has been turning vehicles from Imphal back for the last several days.
This comes a day after two soldiers were injured when unknown gunmen fired at them in North Boljang of Imphal West district around 5am on 22 June.
During initial search operations by the security forces, one INSAS light machine gun and one INSAS rifle were recovered.
Shots of automatic small arms were also heard near Urangpat, north of Yaingangpokpi, around 5.45 pm on 21 June.
More than 100 people have lost their lives already in the violence in Manipur, apparently mostly between the Meitei people and tribal communities in the north-eastern state.
Clashes first broke out on May 3 after a Tribal Solidarity March was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community's demand for scheduled tribe (ST) status — which would allow them access to reserved tribal areas in the hills, amongst other concessions.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribal communities — mostly Nagas and Kuki-Chin peoples — constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts.