| Officials travel on elephants along with their equipment to a polling station in Sonapur under the Guwahati Lok Sabha seat on Monday. Picture by Biju Boro
Imphal, April 19: The army today launched a pre-emptive assault on militant groups of Manipur that have been threatening to disrupt the Lok Sabha poll, the first phase of which will be conducted tomorrow.
Sajik Tampak in Chandel district, where the operation began, is known to be the stronghold of as many as four militant groups. An official source described the offensive as an “area-domination exercise”.
The outlawed United National Liberation Front (UNLF), one of the groups targeted by the army, has called a general strike from midnight and asked the electorate of Outer Manipur constituency not to vote.
There were conflicting reports about the outcome of the military action on the eve of the first phase of polling.
The army claimed this evening that Sajik Tampak, which means a vale, had been secured, but the banned People’s Liberation Army (PLA) said its guerrillas shot dead three army personnel and snatched their weapons and a binocular.
Official sources confirmed the encounter, but did not refer to casualties on either side.
Sajik Tampak is on the Indo-Myanmar border and one of the main bases of the Revolutionary People’s Front, which is the political wing of the PLA. The People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, the UNLF and the Kangleipak Communist Party are the other groups that have camps in the area.
A large army contingent was sent to Sajik Tampak a few days ago to “neutralise the militants and secure the area” before polling in Outer Manipur constituency.
The second constituency, Inner Manipur, will go to the polls on April 26. The UNLF has called a general strike on the second day of polling too.
The encounters between the army and groups of militants reportedly began shortly after midnight.
A spokesperson for the RPF called newspaper offices here this evening to claim that three army personnel were killed in the first round of battle. He said the rebels took away two rifles with five magazines, an AK-47 and a binocular belonging to the army.
A senior police official confirmed that particular encounter, but there was no official statement on casualties. He said the army informed the police department that it had taken control of Sajik Tampak.
In January last year, the BSF entered Sajik Tampak to take on the militants. One of their personnel was killed instantly and the rest were forced to retreat.
Unconfirmed reports said militants attacked a CRPF team on election duty in Churachandpur district yesterday.
Both CRPF and BSF personnel were deployed in “strategic areas” in the Outer Manipur constituency. Large contingents of the police, India Reserve Battalion and CRPF patrolled the state capital throughout the day. People were randomly frisked at all the entry and exit points.
The state election office requested the Election Commission to reschedule polling in 60-odd centres that became inaccessible because of landslides at several places along the Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar road.