Protesters torch 22 vehicles in Manipur district, curfew imposed

Imphal: At least 22 cars, buses and other vehicles were torched in some places in Manipur’s Imphal East district on Sunday by residents protesting against the Naga economic blockade even as curfew was imposed there after a militant attack.

However the arsonists did not target the vehicle drivers and passengers. As fire tenders could not reach the spot, the vehicles could not be salvaged.

In wake of the attack, heavily-armed police and paramilitary personnel were patrolling the trouble-prone areas after dispersing the unruly mob by firing tear gas canisters.

Expressing the people’s resentment against the blockade, activist A. Rajen said: “Since the central government is pampering the United Naga Council (UNC) and the militant outfit underpinning it, the situation is getting worse day by day. The centre is a silent spectator to the indefinite economic blockade imposed against Manipur since November 1.”

Women who called the 24-hour general strike had threatened with more agitations after they ended it on Saturday night.

In Sagolband area of Imphal West district, women stopped and set alight several items including consumer goods which were being transported to the tribal areas.

Nirmala, a housewife, said: “No consumer item is available in the market. Baby foods, life saving medicines, chicken, fish, eggs had vanished. We are resorting to counter blockade against some tribal areas since they should also suffer like us.”

Another woman activist called the UNC a frontal organisation of a militant outfit and said it should be outlawed.

Meanwhile, curfew was imposed in a stretch of Imphal East earlier on Sunday after tribal militants opened fire in Bongyang village along the Imphal-Ukhrul road. Since most of the villagers were inside the church for Sunday prayers, there was no casualty.

In response, Collector Ningthoujam Geofrey clamped curfew in the area from Lamlong market to Yaingangpokpi, with the restrictions extending to 300 metres on either side of the state highway.

“The authority has reason to believe that it will be difficult to protect lives and properties of the people,” he said.

Bongyang is a Kuki-dominated village, where last week, three policemen were killed and 14 others injured in an ambush.

Meanwhile, villagers and staff of Vijaya Bank took out a procession on Sunday at Saikul, also a Kuki area, condemning the robbery of Rs 6 lakh on December 15 by two masked men.

Autonomous District Council member T. Guite said: “The money belongs to the poor people and not the rich and influential businessmen. The common people are hit hard by the closure of the bank branch.”

While condemning the heist, elected representatives and village elders urged the bank to reopen the branch there.

Police circles and civil organisations fear a communal flare up as the central government has not stepped in to restrain the Naga groups. Police sources fear that this may be the beginning of a repeat of ethnic cleansing witnessed in the 1990s which left over 1,500 dead and dozens of villages destroyed.