Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh on Sunday said nearly 40 armed militants involved in torching houses and firing at civilians have been killed by security forces since they began an operation to bring peace to the north eastern state beset by ethnic rioting.
Separately, police officials said on Sunday said at least two persons were killed and 12 injured in different instances of firing upon civilians and clashes between militants and security forces since the early hours of the day .
At Phayeng in Imphal West district, one person died and another sustained bullet injuries after being fired at by suspected Kuki militants, police officials said.
The latest clashes began after the army and para-military forces commenced combing operations to de-arm communities in order to bring peace, officials said.
The Chief Minister who was interacting with the media persons at the state secretariat, claimed the latest round of “conflict is not between communities but between militants and security forces”.
Singh also said that there had been cases of armed militants firing at civilians with AK-47s, M-16 and sniper rifles. These militants were targeted by security forces in counter-attacks.
The CM appealed to the public not to hinder the movement of security personnel and urged them to have "faith in the government and support the security forces." "We have experienced hardship for so long and we will never allow the state to disintegrate," Singh said.
He said many militants involved in killing civilians and destroying property and torching houses have been captured by the Jat regiment.
The Chief Minister said the government is also "deeply saddened by the casualties on both sides" and assured "all possible steps in bringing back normalcy".
He said the spurt in violent attacks on civilian houses in the peripheral areas of the Imphal valley seemed well-planned. Singh termed it as "strongly condemnable ... especially when Minister of State Nityanand Rai is in Manipur and group peace missions are being formed to bring back peace".
Singh said 38 vulnerable areas have been identified and that the state police has been conducting operations there.
The house of BJP MLA Khwairakpam Raghumani Singh at Uripok in Imphal West was vandalised and his two vehicles have been set on fire, a top security official told PTI.
He said that clashes broke out in the early hours of the morning at several places both between rival ethnic militant groups as well as between militants and security forces.
"According to our information, firing has been reported from Sugnu in Kakching, Kangvi in Churachandpur, Kangchup in Imphal West, Sagolmang in Imphal East, Nungoipokpi in Bishenpur, Khurkhul in Imphal West and YKPI in Kangpokpi," the official said.
New roadblocks have also sprung up in areas manned by women.
There was also an unconfirmed report of arms being looted from Kakching police station by a Meitei group, the official said.
At Napat, Serou and nearby Sugnu in Kakching district militants burnt down some 80 houses of Meitei community prompting villagers to flee in midnight hours.
State police personnel deployed in the area retaliated leading to heavy exchange of fire, police said.
One police personnel was killed and another injured at Sugnu in the firing. Six persons were also injured at Sugnu and another four at Serou.
On the eastern side of Manipur valley, armed militants came down to Yaingangpokpi in Imphal East district, and torched two houses and fired upon villagers. Reports of injuries have been reported from there too.
At Sekmai, on the northern side of Manipur valley in Imphal West district, well-armed militants attacked outlying villages leading to an exchange of fire.
In Bishnupur district, armed Kuki militants attacked Phougakchao Ikhai, Torbung and Kangvai areas on Saturday night, torching more than thirty houses belonging to Meitei community.
Violence in the last ten hours has also prompted district authorities to shorten the 11 hour curfew relaxation period in Imphal East and West district to just six and half hours.
Ethnic clashes which have claimed over 75 lives first broke out in Manipur after a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts on May 3 to protest against the Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
The violence was preceded by tension over the eviction of Kuki villagers from reserve forest land, which had led to a series of smaller agitations.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals Nagas and Kukis constitute another 40 per cent of the population and reside in the hill districts.
Around 140 columns of the Indian Army and Assam Rifles, comprising over 10,000 personnel, besides those from other paramilitary forces had to be deployed to bring back normalcy in the Northeastern state.