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Manipur row keeps PM away

Imphal, Oct. 19: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s proposed visit to Manipur on October 29 has been cancelled, ostensibly to save him the ignominy of a hostile reception from groups protesting the release of the 13 NSCN (I-M) functionaries who had been arrested recently.

The United Council, Manipur (UCM), which had spearheaded the June 2001 uprising, believes the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) pressured the Okram Ibobi Singh government into releasing the NSCN (I-M) militants to keep the militant group in good humour.

An indefinite curfew was clamped in Imphal last week after a weeklong mass protest, led by the UCM, over the release of the NSCN (I-M) functionaries, including the outfit’s kilo kilonser (home minister) A.K. Lungalang. The development led to speculation that Delhi had covertly extended its ceasefire with the NSCN (I-M) to the hill districts of Manipur.

Apart from the UCM and other citizens’ organisations, militant groups active in the state have been calling general strikes to protest Delhi’s policies.

Vajpayee was scheduled to arrive here on October 29 on a two-day official visit after completing his tour of neighbouring Nagaland. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) intimated Ibobi Singh about the cancellation of the trip over phone last night.

The chief minister today said the PMO did not cite any reason for the change in Vajpayee’s schedule.

The development is a setback for Ibobi Singh, who had planned to extract an assurance from the Prime Minister that Manipur’s territorial integrity would not be compromised under any circumstance. He had convened an all-party meeting on Friday to finalise the charter of demands that was to be submitted to the Prime Minister.

The Opposition Democratic People’s Alliance (DPA), headed by the BJP, stayed away from the meeting.

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