The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Engineers call off agitation

Imphal/Kohima, July 7: The Manipur government today persuaded the engineers who had resigned early this week to rejoin the public works department and suspend their agitation. But the impasse over the highway blockade by a Naga organisation continued, with the chief minister refusing to meet its leaders anywhere other than in Imphal.

The breakthrough in talks with the PWD engineers came after both Okram Ibobi Singh and chief secretary Jarnail Singh assured them of proper security arrangements and an investigation into instances of unidentified armed groups killing or kidnapping their colleagues.

Gunmen had sprayed bullets at the residence of another engineer last night, almost obliterating the possibility of the agitation being called off. But additional chief engineer G.T. Sharma removed all doubts after talks with the chief secretary. “We have withdrawn our resignations and suspended the agitation in the interest of the people.”

As many as 123 engineers of the PWD had resigned after their colleague, R.K. Mobisana Singh, was shot in the leg near his Imphal residence on July 1. The engineer whose house came under attack yesterday is Ranabir Singh. Gunmen fired several rounds at his Singjamei residence.

In the second major development of the day, the Ibobi government said representatives of the All Naga Students Association of Manipur must come to Imphal for talks. The organisation behind the ongoing blockade on the two national highways in the state had agreed to meet the chief minister on condition that he would travel to Senapati for talks.

The student organisation, which began the blockade after the government declared June 18 as “state integrity day” to commemorate the anniversary of the 2001 uprising, had rejected two previous invitations to talks.

Today, it was Ibobi’s turn to rebuff the student leaders. “I have decided not to go to Senapati, as demanded by the students. I am busy with the Assembly session, but my unwillingness to go there has nothing to do with this engagement. The government is ready to meet the students and talk to them in Imphal and not in Senapati district,” the chief minister said.

The highway blockade since June 19 has choked the supply of various commodities to Manipur, but succour is on the way from neighbouring Nagaland. A convoy of 200 goods-laden trucks started its journey from Dimapur to Imphal late tonight.

Sources said a Nagaland police team had been deputed to escort the trucks till the Khuzama checkgate, on the inter-state border. The Manipur Rifles is supposed to take over from there.

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