At least five people, including a Kuki songwriter whose latest song had become a rallying cry for tribal unity amid the ongoing strife, died in Manipur on Thursday, taking the toll in the fresh round of violence that started on August 29 to seven.
Officials said two persons died in Meitei-majority Bishnupur district while three died in adjoining Kuki-Zo-dominated Churachandpur district on Thursday, raising questions about the security arrangements in place to contain the violence.
According to an official, Jangminlun Gangte, 28, died on August 29 in Churachandpur while three Kukis injured on Wednesday died on Thursday. The deceased have been identified as L.S. Mangboi Lhungdim, 42, a Kuki songwriter; Hemkholun Guite, 36, and Paokam Kipgen, 45.
“They have died in firing between Kuki and Meitei miscreants. The firing started on August 29,” the official said without elaborating. Firing is still on, sources said, adding that several people were injured.
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), a conglomerate of recognised tribes from Churachandpur district, said Lhungdim had composed the song “I Gam Hilou Ham (Is this not our land)” after violence broke out on May 3, and it became a rallying cry for tribal unity.
The two Meiteis who died on Thursday were identified as Moirangthem Ropen, 44, and Pebam Devan, 54.
The gunfight has been taking place around Narainsena in Bishnupur and Khoirengtek in Churachandpur.
The strife since May 3 has left at least 174 people dead and over 67,000 displaced.
Close to 40,000 central force personnel, including troops from the army and the Assam Rifles, have been deployed in the state. They were requisitioned on May 3 itself as the violence swiftly spread to the Imphal Valley from Bishnupur-Churachandpur.
“Armed Meitei radicals attacked tribal positions” in areas bordering Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts for the third straight day, the ITLF said, “disregarding repeated calls by the Union home minister to maintain peace”.
According to the ITLF, Thursday’s attacks began simultaneously around 6am at six locations — Chingphei, Lonphai, Lanchingmanbi, Khousabung, Khoirengtak and Kangathei.
The Meiteis mostly live in the valley while the Kuki-Zo community predominantly lives in the hills.
The ITLF said that Meitei militants were pounding tribal areas with mortar shells stolen from police stations and armouries, leading to a large number of tribal casualties. It urged the government and security forces to recover the “looted weapons from the Meitei community”.
Congress MP Gaurav Gogoi, who had visited Manipur on a stock-taking trip, had said on August 16 said there cannot be peace in the state if the 6,000 weapons and six lakh rounds of ammunition looted from the security forces were not recovered.
Three Kukis were killed by armed groups in Ukhrul district on August 18.