Jan. 16: A student organisation today took up cudgels on behalf of the Kuki tribesman who stands accused of masterminding the murder of Lunglina Elizabeth, saying he has been framed to malign the image of the community.
The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) captured James Kuki, alias Letsail Haokip, in Dimapur on Tuesday, but has refused to hand him over to Manipur police.
Portraying James as a victim of circumstances, the Kuki Students Organisation (KSO) said he deserved a “fair trial” instead of the agony of staying in militant custody.
“We have a strong feeling that the image of the Kuki community has been politically and wilfully maligned since the day Elizabeth was kidnapped, and the campaign is being spearheaded by none other than the chief minister of Manipur, Okram Ibobi Singh.”
Elizabeth, the youngest daughter of minister of Francis Ngajokpa, was taken hostage on November 4. Her body was found in a swamp eight days later. She was just eight.
KSO information and publicity secretary Thangminlen Haokip said the alleged campaign against the Kuki community in the name of bringing Elizabeth’s killers to book was a threat to communal harmony in Manipur. “Is Letsail Haokip, alias James, being unjustly victimised alone because of his minority status'” he asked.
The Kuki leader urged the NSCN (I-M) to hand over James to the authorities to ascertain “beyond any doubt” if he was really involved in the crime. “Nobody is guilty until proven so in the court of law. Justice must not be compromised by emotion and prejudice.”
Announcing his capture, the NSCN (I-M) had said James would face a vigilante trial. “If found guilty, he could be sentenced to death.”
The KSO said it was defending neither the crime of killing a human being nor the perpetrator, irrespective of his community. “If the involvement of any Kuki or Kukis in the gruesome murder is proven, the Kuki community and the KSO will spare no effort to trace the culprits.”
The student organisation’s demand for a fair trial for James was backed by the Flemish Support Group for Indigenous Peoples, which urged the NSCN (I-M) not to condemn anybody until he/she is found guilty in a legitimate court of law.
The rights group, however, said the NSCN (I-M) could not be faulted for not handing over James to Manipur police until the government made a request for his custody.
Sources said the Ibobi Singh government had requested a few organisations in Manipur and Nagaland to persuade the Naga group to hand him over to the police. The non-bailable warrants issued against six suspects by the additional chief judicial magistrate, Imphal, were returned yesterday.
The warrants had been issued after the arrest of a suspect named Thokchom Nando Singh, alias Nanao, in November.
The militant United National Liberation Front (UNLF) claims James and eight more persons, including Nando, carried out the crime. However, James is not in the police’s list of suspects.