The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Search for hope amid remains

Imphal, April 14: A day after arsonists set fire to Manipur's biggest and most popular library, employees rummaged through the debris in a bid to salvage whatever remained of the treasure trove of books, journals and old newspaper files.

Police, on the other hand, intensified the crackdown on pro-Meitei script activists and detained four more persons on suspicion of their involvement in the incident.

Imphal West superintendent of police S. Ibocha Singh said all four were relatives of members of the Meitei Erol Eyek Loinasillon Apunba Lup, which wants the Bengali script to be replaced with the Meitei Mayek in school textbooks.

Two of the three persons rounded up within hours of the fire were formally arrested today. Ibocha Singh said the duo had confessed to their involvement in the act of arson. 'They told interrogators that the act was committed by nine script activists. We are trying to trace the other seven. The duo will be booked under the National Security Act.'

A group of 40 activists of the Meitei Erol Eyek Loinasillon Apunba Lup poured five jerrycans of kerosene around the 47-year-old building and set it ablaze around 4 pm on Wednesday. All but two of the bookshelves was destroyed. Library employees said the damage ' local newspaper editions since 1958 and books authored by British officers based in Manipur between 1891 and 1947 were lost in the fire ' was worth Rs 10 crore.

A community information centre attached to the library building was gutted, too. The centre had eight computers and valuable equipment.

The police confirmed this morning that two visitors to the library suffered burns. The arsonists had locked as many as 25 employees in the office building before setting fire to it, but they broke open the door in the nick of time and escaped unscathed.

Senior library officials, led by chief librarian Heikrujam Devendra Singh, were among those who rummaged through the remains from morning till late afternoon. Art and culture minister Pheiroijam Parijat Singh has convened an official meeting tomorrow to discuss how to rebuild the library.

The chief librarian said the government might approach national libraries, including the one in Calcutta, for copies of books on Manipur.

The National Library in Calcutta has a large collection of books on the Northeast.

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