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Karbis call bandh after ginger loot

Feb. 12: Security is being stepped up in Karbi Anglong district to prevent a bloody showdown between Kukis and Karbis, following the seizure of 35 truckloads of ginger belonging to Kuki cultivators by the anti-talks faction of the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS).

The UPDS action has drawn a sharp retort from Kuki organisations. The Autonomous State Demand Committee, on the other hand, has called a 10-hour Assam bandh tomorrow demanding that the government provide security to the Karbis and flush out Kuki rebels.

The build-up of forces, including the army, CRPF and police, was visible in the sensitive areas. However, there was no official word on the deployment of armed personnel, ostensibly to avoid creating panic in an already tense district.

Karbi Anglong superintendent of police Pankaj Sarma said they had “no knowledge of the seizure of ginger” by UPDS rebels. “If the cultivators are facing any problem, they should come to the police for necessary action,” he said, adding that “tight security has been provided to the ginger cultivators”.

Most of the ginger cultivation is concentrated in the Singhasan hills range of the district, an area dominated by Kukis.

S.M. Singsan, the chieftain of Sinmul, a Kuki village, said armed UPDS rebels had dug out ginger from the fields “and taken away 35 truckloads” over the past few days. “It is a great loss for Kuki cultivators, who have toiled round the year to reap a good harvest,” he said. The looted ginger is estimated to fetch Rs 25 lakh in the market.

Most Kuki villagers in and around Singhasan hills have abandoned their homes since the Kuki-Karbi ethnic clashes started in October last year and taken shelter in relief camps run by the state government. Only one or two villagers had stayed back to guard the fields.

“The UPDS rebels took advantage of the absence of villagers to take away the ginger,” Singsan said.

A member of the Kuki National Assembly (KNA), an influential organisation of the tribe, confirmed the development.

The seizure of ginger is part of the UPDS’ eco-friendly operation, which it had launched on January 27, barring any agricultural activity by “outsiders”, an euphemism used for Kukis and Hindi-speaking people. The UPDS claims that rampant jhum cultivation of ginger and sugarcane is posing a threat to the fragile ecological balance in the hills. It had threatened to award capital punishment to anybody found defying the ban and destroying “the gifts of nature”.

The KNA member said, “The administration, which has failed to protect Kuki cultivators, will have to take the responsibility of any untoward situation which may arise any moment now”.

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