A Manipur Police officer was shot dead by suspected insurgents while he was overseeing the construction of a helipad in Manipur’s Moreh, a trading town on the border with Myanmar, the Manipur government said in a statement today after an emergency meeting of the state cabinet over the killing.
The unprecedented attack on the helipad project this morning marks a sharp increase in hostilities between the security forces and insurgents amid the semblance of hard-won normalcy in ethnic violence-hit Manipur.
Sub-Divisional Police Officer (SDPO) Chingtham Anand was rushed to a local clinic in the restive hill-majority town that saw intense ethnic clashes between the Kuki tribes and the Meiteis in the past few months. He died during treatment, the police said.
The bullet wound indicated the police officer was shot with a large-calibre marksman or sniper rifle from a concealed position quite a distance away, a police officer in Moreh told NDTV on phone, requesting anonymity. The police could not retaliate immediately as the general direction from where the precision shot came has civilian buildings, the officer said.
Subsequently, the security forces launched an operation in the area to neutralise the threat, sources said.
Purported WhatsApp chats of suspected insurgents accessed by state intelligence show them celebrating the killing, sources said, but did not give further details. Two phone numbers in the WhatsApp chat have been identified, they said.
The helipad, being built jointly by the state forces and the Border Security Force (BSF), will be used to transport state forces as the road from the state capital Imphal to Moreh is blocked at many places by miscreants, people familiar with the matter said.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh in a post on X, formerly Twitter, said he was “deeply saddened by the cold-blooded killing” of the police officer. “… His dedication to serve and protect the people will always be remembered. The perpetrators will be brought to justice,” Mr Singh said in the post.
After the emergency cabinet meeting, the Manipur government in the statement said it “condemns the dastardly act in the strongest terms” as communities across Manipur have been exercising restraint to bring peace for nearly two months now, following the ethnic violence that broke out on May 3 in the hill district Churachandpur before it spread to other districts.
The Manipur government in the statement said it has approved a compensation of Rs 50 lakh to the family of the police officer and a government job to an eligible family member.
Mr Anand’s colleagues said they remember him as a pleasant, cheerful police officer who maintained a good rapport with locals in the border town, where there is a constant pressure of illegal immigrants and refugees fleeing Myanmar’s junta, insurgents, looters and drug traffickers.
Commandos of the Manipur Police have arrested at least 10 Myanmar nationals in as many days for looting homes of Moreh residents, who left the border town when ethnic clashes broke out on May 3 between the hill-majority Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis.
A small squad of Manipur Police commandos who have been stationed in Moreh since the May 3 violence is being bolstered with reinforcements now. Sending the BSF and police personnel to the border town, however, has not been easy due to roadblocks by miscreants, sources said, adding the need for a larger helipad was felt and so a decision to build it was taken.
The Manipur government in the statement after the cabinet meeting today said a first information report (FIR) has been filed against an organisation called World Kuki-Zo Intellectual Council, which issued a statement on October 24 asking “volunteers” in the Kuki-Zo community to take up arms as the Kuki National Army and other insurgent groups cannot “join the war” due to the tripartite suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with the centre and the state government.
At least 25 Kuki insurgent groups have signed the SoO agreement, under which they have to stay at designated camps, and keep their weapons in locked storage for regular joint monitoring with the security forces.
Kuki-Zo Organisation Under UAPA
The cabinet recommended the ‘World Kuki-Zo Intellectual Council’ to be designated as an “unlawful organisation/association” under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, which has special procedures to deal with terrorism.
“The cabinet noted that an FIR has already been lodged against the organisation yesterday. In view of today’s incident leading to killing of a senior police officer, the cabinet therefore approved to also recommend for declaration of the World Kuki-Zo Intellectual Council (WKZIC) as an unlawful association/organisation under Section 3 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967,” the government said in the statement.
The ethnic violence in Manipur has killed over 180 people and left thousands internally displaced.
Though the Manipur ethnic violence between the Kuki tribes and the Meiteis is said to be over the Meities’ demand for inclusion under the Scheduled Tribes category, many leaders including Union Minister Home Minister Amit Shah and Foreign Minister S Jaishankar have said entry of illegal immigrants is one of the main factors behind the unrest in the northeast state, which is ruled by the BJP.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has said it is looking into an alleged transnational conspiracy involving terror groups hiding in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Manipur to exploit the ethnic violence in the northeast state.