Imphal: A commanding officer of the Assam Rifles, his wife and son, besides four personnel of the country's oldest paramilitary were killed on Saturday in a welter of IED blasts and burst of gunfire in Manipur's Churachandpur district, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said.
Viplav Tripathi, the Commanding Officer of Khuga Battalion of Assam Rifles, a colonel rank officer, his wife, six-year-old son besides four personnel of the paramilitary force died in an ambush on Saturday morning, in fresh eruption of militant violence in the border state.
Two proscribed militant organisations - the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Manipur Naga People's Front (MNPF) - claimed responsibility for the ambush at Sehkan village in Churachandpur district of the North-eastern state.
"The cowardly attack on an Assam Rifles convoy in Churachandpur, Manipur is extremely painful & condemnable. The nation has lost 5 brave soldiers including CO 46 AR and two family members. My condolences to the bereaved families. The perpetrators will be brought to justice soon," the defence minister tweeted.
Condemning the attack, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the sacrifices of the soldiers and their families will never be forgotten.
"I pay homage to those soldiers and family members who have been martyred today. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of sadness," the PM wrote on Twitter.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah also expressed anguish over the ambush.
"I express my deepest condolences to the bereaved families. The entire nation stands firmly with our valiant security forces. The sacrifices of our brave soldiers will not go in vain," Shah tweeted.
The incident is the first major attack on security forces since June 4, 2018 when an Army convoy was similarly targeted in Chandel district resulting in the death of 18 personnel and injury to others. The personnel of the Road Opening Patrol (ROP) of the 6 Dogra Regiment of the Army were felled.
The state that was for decades in the throes of insurgency was largely calm ever since.
On Saturday, Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) burst on a hill road, shattering the tenuous peace in Manipur, before the Assam Rifles personnel engaged the militants in a do-or-die firefight.
Bullets rained in a torrent from hilltops covered in foliage as security personnel ducked for cover and fired from behind trees and boulders.
"Five soldiers including Col Viplav Tripathi Commanding Officer of 46 Assam Rifles have made the supreme sacrifice in the line of duty. The family of Commanding Officer i.e. wife and child also lost their lives in the incident. DG and all ranks of Assam Rifles offer condolences to the brave soldiers and families of the deceased," the force said in a press statement.
Earlier, it had said the commanding officer, his family, and three Quick Reaction Team personnel died in the attack.
In a joint statement, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Manipur Naga People's Front (MNPF) claimed that they have carried out the attack on the paramilitary force.
These two organisations along with ULFA-Independent had in July last year killed three Assam Rifles personnel in Manipur's Chandel district.
Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu also condemned "this heinous act of terrorism"
"Deeply anguished by the martyrdom of five brave soldiers of Assam Rifles, including a Commanding Officer and two of his family members in Manipur today. My condolences to the bereaved family members," Naidu said on Twitter.
Assam Rifles is the oldest paramilitary force in the country raised in 1835 under the British rule. It is under the administrative jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) but operational control of the Indian Army.
The force eulogised the slain officer who had previously served in Mizoram until his transfer to Manipur in July 2021.
"During his tenure at Mizoram, under his able and energetic leadership, the Battalion has been at the forefront in Border management thwarting illegal smuggling in the IMB and hinterland. Battalion has also recovered several weapons & War like stores which could have landed in the hands of Anti National elements thus avoiding major casualties.
"Col Viplav though his remarkable endeavors has bonded closely with the locals of Mizoram. The Anti Drug campaign conducted by his battalion in January 2021 received several laurels and praise & the awareness was rightfully created by him in the entire state including the remote villages to ensure the youth are guided in the right direction," the statement said, adding his "goodwill for the society will last an eternity".
The Assam Rifles statement said it suspected that the insurgent group responsible for this massacre "must be from PREPAK cadre as the PREPAK remembrance day is celebrated on 12/13 November 2021".
Chief Ministers of several states also condemned the attack on the paramilitary force.