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Forces cut off at Mao Gate
- Protesters choke supply route

Kangpokpi (Manipur), May 7: Security forces deployed at Mao town in Senapati district today sent an SOS to Imphal after Naga protesters in the area cut off their supply of potable water, rations and medicines.

Protesting against yesterday’s police crackdown at Mao that killed two students and the state government’s decision not to allow NSCN (I-M) general secretary Th. Muivah entry into the state, the demonstrators turned a 35km stretch from Tumuyon Khullen, a Naga village on the outskirts of Kangpokpi town in the district, till Mao gate, the entry point into Manipur on the Imphal-Dimpur highway, into a “war zone”.

This correspondent saw piles of boulders and logs, which the Nagas called “our bunkers”, blocking the road. One of the roadblocks near Taphou locality, not far from the district headquarters of Senapati, was 4.5feet high. The roadblock was reportedly put up using an excavator.

“We are blocking the road to prevent entry of Manipur forces. They have already created trouble leading to deaths and if more state forces reach Mao there will be more violence and trouble. We don’t want this to happen,” T.S. Kavaila, the chairperson of Tumuyon Khullen Women Society, said. The first hurdle for the state forces to clear the road begins from this village.

“The road is blocked with boulders and trees every 100 yards. It will be a tough task for the forces to clear it,” Bokul Singh, a labourer who walked from Maram Centre, 20km from Senapati town, to Kangpokpi, told this correspondent. He began walking for home in Imphal at 2.30 this morning fearing the worst and reached Kangpokpi at 3pm. He said many Naga villagers — men, women and children — were keeping vigil all along the road.

“We will shed our blood but we will not allow state forces to go ahead from here,” H. Tinny, the vice-president of Tumuyon Khullen Youth Club, said.

Mao town has remained shut since yesterday after the police firing on Muivah supporters at Mao Gate, from where Muivah had planned to enter Manipur on his way to Somdal, his native village in Ukhrul district. Several protesters were also wounded, one of them seriously, in the police action.

With shops in Mao town downing shutters for the second consecutive day and Nagas cutting off supply line from Imphal, a distance of 109km, the morale of more than 200 security personnel, comprising armed police, police commandos, India Reserve Battalion and Manipur Rifles, was low today. Many personnel fell ill because of lack of potable water, proper accommodation and round-the-clock duty.

“The morale of the personnel is very low and the government should do something to airdrop supplies,” a senior police official at Kangpokpi police station told this correspondent.

Reports said a convoy of about five to six vehicles of the Assam Rifles remained stuck at Taphou near Senapati town, since early today. The villagers turned back another Assam Rifles convoy from Tumuyon Khullen around 11.30am.

Apart from the road blockades, which were manned by protesters, youths armed with stones were seen sitting on top of hill ranges that run along the national highway.

Ibobi Singh had rushed reinforcements yesterday afternoon after the clash in Mao town. But these could not proceed further from Kangpokpi because of the road blocks and tense situation along the road.

Led by 7 Manipur Rifles commandant Kh. Chandramani Singh, a strong reinforcement team of about 200 personnel is stuck at Kangpokpi police station since yesterday. The team comprises police commandos, Manipur Rifles and India Reserve Battalion personnel,

“We are waiting for a clear order from the government whether we should move ahead to clear the roadblocks and proceed towards Mao,” Chandramani Singh said.

Other personnel at Kangpokpi said there would be more bloodshed if they were forced to move ahead and clear the roadblocks.

Sources said the 57th Mountain Division is expected to make a move to clear the roadblocks tomorrow following a strong plea from chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh.

As tension mounted in the Naga-dominated hill districts, Manipur valley today remained shut but peaceful during a general strike called by the All Manipur United Clubs’ Organisation from 6pm yesterday. The organisation had initially called a 48-hour strike but ended it at 6pm today, keeping in view public inconvenience.

Nagas in the Chandel, Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong districts today mourned the death of the two protesters at Mao yesterday, observing it as “mourning day”.

In Ukhrul, Muivah’s home district, about 10,000 people gathered at Tangkhul Nagalong ground in the district headquarters to mourn the deaths and hold a mass prayer. “Mourning programmes” were also reported from Chandel, Senapati and Tamenglong. But the day remained peaceful without reports of any violence.

However, suspected Naga protesters set on fire six government offices in Chandel district late last night in protest against the police crackdown at Mao. Official sources said agriculture, horticulture, cooperative, forest and two sub-divisional offices located at Chandel district headquarters and Chakpikarong were set on fire. They said most of the offices were badly damaged.

Chief minister Ibobi Singh and his cabinet colleagues monitored the situation round-the-clock since morning. The government apprised the Union home ministry of the cabinet’s decision taken last night not to allow Muivah entry into Manipur. “We reiterated our stand to the Union home minister today that Muivah should not be allowed to enter Manipur,” government spokesperson N. Biren Singh said.

Union home minister P. Chidambaram is understood to have told Ibobi Singh during the meeting in Delhi yesterday that he should find a way out of the present deadlock and suggested that Muivah be allowed to fly to Manipur in a helicopter. Ibobi Singh reportedly told him that he could not take any decision without consulting his cabinet.

Ibobi Singh called out the army today after meeting the deputy GOC of 57th Mountain Division, Brig. R.S. Drewal. He had held a meeting with him yesterday, too.

“We have called out the army today. Troops deployed in Senapati district have reached Mao town to assist the state forces in maintaining law and order in and around the town,” Biren Singh told this correspondent. He said efforts were on to clear the roadblocks.

In another development, one more Naga MLA, D. Shaiza, an Independent from Ukhrul constituency, tendered his resignation today in protest against barring of Muivah from Manipur and the police crackdown in Mao. Six Naga MLAs had resigned yesterday on the same grounds. Speaker S. Budhichandra Singh is yet to take a decision on the resignations.

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