No Such Thing As Buffer Zone, Forces Can Go Anywhere, Says Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh

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'No Such Thing As Buffer Zone, Forces Can Go Anywhere': Manipur Chief Minister

Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh speaks to the media in state capital Imphal on Saturday

Imphal/Guwahati:

There is no such thing as a “buffer zone” in Manipur and all forces can go anywhere in the state, Chief Minister N Biren Singh told reporters in the state capital Imphal today.

The Chief Minister also condemned “new groups that have sprang up” in recent times for “creating panic among people to run their agenda”, and pointed at the Kuki-Zo group Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), two days after protesters in the hill district Churachandpur set on fire government office buildings over the suspension of a head constable from their community.

The head constable, Siamlalpaul, was suspended over allegations that he had been training an armed group, who call themselves “village defence volunteers”. His selfie and a video at a hill bunker, which had gone viral on social media, also contained visuals of young people armed with military-grade assault rifles, some with attachments like silencers and scopes; sniper rifles, and even submachine guns like the German-origin MP5.

“Some sections of people and security forces use the word ‘buffer zone’. But the state government home department has clearly said there is no such thing as a ‘buffer zone’, which is usually seen in situations involving two nations,” Mr Singh told reporters on Saturday.

“There are some sensitive areas, some hotspots where more violence is expected. The security forces operating in such areas is a different matter. But some people spreading things like ‘you can’t enter here or there’ or beyond a certain area are wrong. There is no ‘buffer zone’,” he said.

“I have heard a particular paramilitary force saying so-and-so area is a ‘buffer zone’. I would like to clarify immediately that there is nothing like a ‘buffer zone’ for the state government. Anytime, anywhere, any security force can operate across Manipur to handle threats. I have instructed the state forces to send special commandos in bulletproof vehicles to bolster the central forces if their action against armed groups are not effective,” the Chief Minister said.

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The Assam Rifles, controlled by the army but administratively managed by the Home Ministry, has come under criticism in Manipur over alleged inaction against illegal immigrants and other elements, including Kuki-Zo insurgents who have allegedly violated the ground rules of the tripartite suspension of operations (SoO) agreement signed with the Centre and the state government.

The central force has refuted all these allegations as rumours floated by anti-talks Meitei insurgents who are hiding in Myanmar.

Fierce Gunfights In Manipur’s Sugnu

For the past three days, the security forces including the Border Security Force (BSF) have been engaged in fierce gunfights with suspected insurgents from the hills in Kakching district’s Sugnu, 75 km from Imphal. A BSF soldier was injured in the gunfight on Thursday. Several 81 mm mortar rounds have landed in the heart of Sugnu town, police sources told NDTV, adding they have been attacked with large-calibre belt-fed machine guns.

“We have sent reinforcements to Sugnu… Forensic teams have taken samples of the damage to see what kinds of heavy weapons are being used, whether there is a foreign hand,” Mr Singh said, alluding to allegations by the Meitei community in the valley that insurgents from Myanmar have been giving weapons to the Kuki-Zo tribes with whom they share ethnic ties. State Security Adviser Kuldiep Singh had, however, said there was no evidence of Myanmar insurgents’ involvement in the Manipur crisis, though it is “suspected”.

Reports and eyewitnesses’ accounts from the ground, especially at Kwatha village near Pillar No. 81 – the India-Myanmar boundary – have alleged insurgents from across the border regularly cross into India.

“Cash Reward” Post For Killing Senior Cop In Churachandpur: Police Case Filed

The Chief Minister said a first information report (FIR) has been filed against social media user Babmang Hauzel, who offered a cash reward for killing the Churachandpur Superintendent of Police Shivanand Surve.

An FIR will also be filed against “an elected leader” whose “fake post” on social media incited people in Churachandpur to turn violent, Mr Singh told reporters.

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“This elected leader, who I will not name, posted fake news that no cop was suspended in armoury loot cases in the valley, while a cop was suspended in Churachandpur over a case. This incited people in Churachandpur. This is wrong information. We have also suspended seven cops and the forces guarding the armoury had opened fired to stop the protesters. Two were killed. We condemn such leaders spreading hate to confuse and incite people,” the Chief Minister said, and warned the ITLF against misleading the public.

“We condemn the threatening language used by groups like ITLF that gave an ultimatum to the police chief and the district commissioner to leave Churachandpur,” Mr Singh said, adding the protest was against the Superintendent of Police, but they also set the District Commissioner’s office – where records are kept – on fire. “This act shows they have an agenda. We have ordered two magisterial investigation into the incident,” he said.

Police Chief Entirely Responsible: Kuki-Zo Group ITLF

The ITLF in a statement late on Thursday had said the Churachandpur police chief was “entirely responsible for tonight’s incident in the district”, in which two protesters were killed in firing by central forces after the huge crowds threatened to overrun their positions. There are no state forces in Churachandpur.

The ITLF alleged videos have been doing the rounds on social media in the past few months showing Manipur Police personnel fighting alongside armed groups and attacking Kuki-Zo areas. “But no action has been taken against them,” the ITLF said.

The protesters have said the head constable was suspended unfairly, and should be reinstated. Churachandpur was one of the areas most affected by the ethnic clashes that began in May 2023.

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The former leader of a civil society group has also written to the Manipur Police to file a case against a senior officer for allegedly threatening to kill him. H Thangtinlen Daniel Mate, the former chief of the Tengnoupal unit Kuki Students Organisation (KSO), in the letter alleged that the Senior Superintendent of Police (Combat) Colonel Nectar Sanjenbam (retired) dialled him at night and threatened to kill him.

“I received a call from Mr Nectar’s phone number… and because it was late at night I did not receive the call. Then after a few minutes I received a life-threatening text message… The text said that he knows me and that he was going to kill me,” Mr Mate said in the letter to the officer in charge of Tengnoupal police station on Thursday.

“… I have not done anything against this person or any person to deserve such a life-threatening warning,” he said.

No FIR has been filed yet.

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