Manipur police on Saturday night arrested five Meitei youths in state police commando uniforms and recovered a cache of sophisticated firearms and ammunition from them.
The arrests are being seen as the “tip” of a security nightmare in Manipur: the arms that were looted from state armouries after the conflict spun out of control on May 3.
“In one such operation, on 16.09.2023, Manipur Police arrested 05 (five) persons with sophisticated weapons in camouflage uniform.... Strict legal action is being taken against these anti-social elements. Manipur Police is determined to carry out such raids/ operations and make all out efforts to bring peace and normalcy in the state,” said a release issued by the state police.
According to an FIR lodged with Porampat police station in Imphal East district, the police recovered 1 Insas rifle, 4 magazines containing 78 rounds, 1 SLR, 3 magazines containing 50 rounds, two .303 rifles with magazines, 5 rounds each and a Bolero vehicle.
The arrests are the first known instance of the N. Biren Singh government acting against Meitei armed youths impersonating state police. Many of the armed youths are said to be surrendered or bailed out members of militant outfits like the People Liberation Army, United National Liberation Front, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, Kangleipak Communist Party, Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup and the Manipur Peoples’ Liberation Front.
That some of the armed youths have had connections with the banned outfits was confirmed by the police as the statement released after the arrest named one Moirangthem Anand Singh, who was described as a trained PLA cadre before he switched to a faction of the KCP. This person was arrested several times in the past — once under the provisions of the National Security Act, 1980.
“The state police seem to have finally woken up.... But the five arrests are nothing but the tip of the iceberg,” said a source in one of the central paramilitary forces.
The officer also hailed the role of the police in repelling a mob of over 2,000 — mostly Meira Paibis (Meitei women torchbearers) — who had stormed the Parampat police station demanding the release of the five youths. They had also given a 48-hour bandh call in five districts in the Imphal valley seeking the release of the five youths.
Although the police have indicated that they won’t cow down before such pressure tactics and would carry on with raids to identify people masquerading as state police commandos, it remains to be seen whether the mission is pursued with enough vigour.
“There are intelligence inputs that put the number of such armed youths between 500 and 600.... The reports, dating back to June, had also given specific inputs on the markets where tailors had been assigned the job of stitching the police commando fatigues and also named the areas that the Meitei armed youths had set as targets. Had the state police acted before, so many lives would not have been lost,” added the source.
According to the source, the armed youths are located in different areas in Kakching, Thoubal, Imphal East and Imphal West districts and are carrying out extortion, besides occasionally slipping through the buffer zones — between the hills and the valley — with the tacit support of sections of the police and entering Kuki villages to carry out attacks and ambush.
Video footage that surfaced recently has suggested that those carrying out attacks in Kuki villages in Pallel and Kangpokpi district — in which at least six people were killed and 50 injured — were Meitei militants in state police commando camouflages.
Another source in Manipur said that as the armed Meitei youths were carrying fake ID cards that wrongly identified them as state police personnel, the 15,500-odd central troops — 12,500 central paramilitary forces and 3,000 from the army and Assam Rifles — deployed in various areas have been finding it difficult to carry out their responsibilities.
“It has become very confusing at the operational level as in some recent instances senior state police officers were giving safe passage to these Meitei armed youths.... The combing operations need to be intensified to nab all these people,” the source added.
The combing operation is “the most important element” to bring lasting peace in Manipur, stressed the senior paramilitary force officer, as the Meitei youths are “heavily armed”.
“There are intelligence inputs that at least 4,000 sophisticated arms like AK-series guns, light machine guns, mortars, MP5, Insas and SLR are still with the Meitei militants in the Imphal valley.... There are reports that over five lakh rounds of assorted ammunition were looted from the state armouries. Unless these are all recovered, peace will be a distant dream in Manipur,” said the source.
According to him, the Meitei youths have also begun sourcing long-range weapons — like sniper rifles and mortars — from banned Meitei terror outfits based in Myanmar.
“A recent video showed a militant in police commando uniform carrying the sniper Dragunov (which has an effective range of 800 meters).... The Manipur police do not have such weapons. So, it’s clear that they are getting support across the international border from Myanmar also,” the source said.