Imphal, Feb. 24: The lull in Manipur after a day of peaceful polling was shattered today, when militants struck in a clinically efficient ambush, killing 16 security personnel.
An unidentified militant outfit ambushed a team of security personnel of the India Reserve Battalion (IRB) and state police on the border of Tamenglong and Bishenpur districts.
Police sources said the team of policemen and security personnel of 1st IRB was returning to Imphal from Khoupum in Tamenglong district when it was ambushed at the Ngariyan Lai Maton hills.
The security personnel were returning after having performed election duty at Tamenglong district yesterday.
The hills are located 70 km from Imphal along the Old Cachar Road. Militants fired a volley of bullets and bombs on the six-vehicle convoy led by 1st IRB commanding officer P. Dhiren.
The officer escaped unhurt but 13 security personnel were slain on the spot while another died on the way to hospital. The other two jawans succumbed to injuries at Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal. No weapon was looted from the spot.
“Four others were injured in the attack. We were taken completely by surprise,” a survivor of the ambush said. While three were critically injured, two other securitymen sustained minor injuries.
No armed outfit had owned up to the attack till the filing of this report. The police, too, were unable to identify any group.
The militants, around 30 in number, were armed with AK series rifles and lethod bomb-launching guns. They had been lying in wait for some time.
The police said the militants, concealed at three different places atop the hills, targeted the truck leading the convoy as well as the last vehicle. The slain personnel were travelling in the first truck, which bore the brunt of the attack.
Additional army, CRPF and state security forces were rushed to the spot. Led by Bishenpur superintendent of police Th. Jayanta, the combined forces launched a search operation in and around the site of the ambush.
The army also deployed a helicopter to track down the militants. However, the rebels managed to escape. A red alert has been sounded throughout the state.
This is the second major rebel strike in Manipur since polling began. Three CRPF personnel, a poll official and a civilian driver were killed in an ambush by the Manipur Peoples Army on February 9 in Ukhrul district.
Today’s terror strike, a day after completion of polling, has sent shockwaves through Manipur’s security establishment.
Director-general of police A.K. Parashar expressed shock on receiving news of the incident.
“Till this morning, I was very happy that polling had been held peacefully and that all polling materials and our boys had returned safely and without any untoward incident. Now this tragic incident has occurred,” Parashar said. “I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say.”
He visited the mortuary of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) where the bodies have been kept for post-mortem. He also visited JN Hospital.
The scene at the forensic wing of the RIMS was heartrending. Relatives of the slain personnel wailed and wept. Laumling, widow of Paomang Kuki, an IRB securityman from Thoubal district, sobbed inconsolably.
“I don’t know what to say,” was all that she could manage. But her silence, a mute testimony to her anguish and grief, spoke louder than words.