AFSPA extended in Manipur amid continuing protests

A protester holds a placard during a protest against the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur state, in New Delhi, Friday, July 21, 2023. Photo: PTI

Imphal: Violent protests continued to rock Manipur's capital for the second consecutive day on Wednesday as Union Home Minister Amit Shah assured Chief Minister N Biren Singh of quick action in dealing with the culprits responsible for kidnapping and killing two youths.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA was extended by another six months in Manipur on Wednesday barring 19 police stations falling under the Imphal valley and an area that shares its boundary with neighbouring Assam.

Curfew was also re-imposed in two districts of East and West Imphal as the Biren Singh government combatted violent protests which saw 65 demonstrators being injured over two days.

A CBI team flew in, in a special aircraft to help with the probe as Shah dialled Singh and assured him that those who had kidnapped and killed the two Manipuri youths would be arrested and punished.

Singh quoted Shah as stating that this case has to be dealt with very seriously and those responsible have to be booked as per the law of the land and assured that no one will be spared.

The chief minister told reporters: "The central and state governments are very serious about this case. Union Home Minister Amit Shah-ji called me up yesterday evening and told me that he is sending a CBI team on a special flight to investigate the particular case."

A team of CBI officials, led by the agency's Special Director Ajay Bhatnagar, has reached Manipur during the day.

After landing in Imphal, they (CBI) have started their investigation, the chief minister said without disclosing the place where the CBI team has gone.

The case began on July 6 with the disappearance of the two youths and it was handed over to the central agency on August 28.

Photos of their bodies surfaced on social media on Monday and went viral, leading to protests by students in the state.

Speaking on the nature of injuries suffered by demonstrators, Singh said, "If security forces had fired bullets or anything lethal, the government will not tolerate it and disciplinary actions will be taken against them. In case of major injuries, investigations would be carried out to give them justice."

"If our children get unjustified treatment even from our own forces, disciplinary actions will be taken," he assured.

The chief minister said that he had information that "objects made of iron were thrown at the security forces by miscreants who were among the demonstrating students," adding a number of police personnel were also injured.

He pointed out that agitations need to be peaceful and should not be held in hyper-sensitive zones of offices of the Governor and the chief minister.

On the extension of the AFSPA, a government notification said, "Now, therefore in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 3 of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act... the Governor of Manipur hereby declare the entire state of Manipur excluding the areas falling under the jurisdiction of 19 police disturbed Area for a period of six months with effect from October 1, 2023."

Significantly, the areas that have been kept out of the purview of AFSPA are dominated by the majority Meitei community which includes Jiribam, adjacent to Silchar valley of Assam.

With the extension of AFSPA, the Army and Assam Rifles cannot operate inside the areas under the 19 police stations without the consent of the state police.

Security officials have been advocating bringing the entire state under AFSPA.

The Joint Students' Body: Lamka, a federation of various hill-based organisations, demanded reimposition of AFSPA in the valley districts.

"The complete breakdown of law and order in Imphal and the valley districts alone should be the reason for the reimposition of AFSPA," the organisation said in a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

The security agencies have been warning that banned terror groups have been forming their base in the Imphal valley of the state.

They have also been warning about the possibility of these terrorists mingling with crowds during any protest to stoke tensions in restive Manipur, the sources said.

Manipur Police said a mob tried to attack the house of a political leader but the security forces stopped them. The crowd also burnt a police vehicle, while assaulting a policeman and snatching his weapon.

The identity of the politician was not disclosed.

Combing operations are being carried out for recovery of arms and catching miscreants, the police said on X.

More than 180 people have been killed and several hundred injured since ethnic violence broke out in Manipur on May 3, when a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts to protest against the majority Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe status.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal valley, while tribals, including Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 per cent and reside mostly in the hill districts

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