Manipur clash 'political problem'; 4,000 looted arms still in open: Lt Gen R P Kalita

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Guwahati, Nov 21 (PTI) Terming the ethnic clashes in Manipur as a "political problem", Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Rana Pratap Kalita on Tuesday said incidents of violence will continue unless around 4,000 weapons, which were looted from security forces, are recovered from common people.

The Eastern Command General Officer Commanding-in-Chief also said India is giving shelter to anyone from Myanmar seeking refuge, including common villagers, army or police, in Mizoram and Manipur, but not armed cadres of militant groups of drug traffickers.

"Our efforts have been to contain the violence and motivate both sides of the conflict to come for a peaceful resolution of the political problem. Because ultimately, there has to be a political resolution to the problem," Kalita told reporters at an interaction organised by the Gauhati Press Club.

As far as the ground situation was concerned, the Indian Army's aim initially was to carry out rescue and relief operations for the people who were displaced from their houses, he added.

"Thereafter, we are trying to contain the violence, which we have been largely successful. But because of the polarisation between the two communities, Meiteis and Kukis, some sporadic incidents keep taking place here and there," Kalita said.

Asked why normalcy has not returned to Manipur even after more than six-and-half months of beginning of the clashes, he said there has been some legacy issues between the three communities that live in the state -- Meitei, Kuki and Naga.

The Lieutenant General pointed out that earlier also there had been conflicts between the Kukis and Nagas in the 1990s when almost 1,000 people were killed.

"What has happened now is that both the communities have completely got polarised. Though the level of violence has come down, more than 5,000 weapons were taken away from various police stations and other places.

"Out of that, only about 1,500 weapons have been recovered. So, around 4,000 weapons are still out. Till the time these weapons are out in society, this sort of sporadic violent activities will continue," he added.

Kalita, however, said weapon smuggling along with drugs through the Indo-Myanmar border has been checked, although some isolated incidents may be there.

"But since 4,000 weapons are already out in the open, I think there is no requirement of weapons to come from outside," he stressed.

More than 180 people lost their lives and several hundreds were injured since ethnic clashes broke out in Manipur on May 3, after a 'Tribal Solidarity March' was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community's demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur's population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals -- Nagas and Kukis -- constitute little over 40 per cent and reside in the hill districts.

On the refugee crisis from Myanmar, Lt Gen Kalita said, "Any instability in our neighbourhood is not in our interest. It definitely impacts us as we share the common border. The problem of the Indo-Myanmar border gets accentuated because of the difficult geography and terrain conditions, and lack of development." He further said as the border is porous and people are from the same ethnicity on both sides of the border, a lot of free movements take place, and it becomes difficult for the forces managing the borders to identify who are the people from India and who are from Myanmar.

"We are giving shelter to anybody who is seeking refuge, whether it is a common villager or Myanmar Army or Myanmar Police. There is a due process that is followed. Whenever they want to come in, the weapons are separated obviously.

"Thereafter there is a proper identification, which is carried out so that the undesirable elements are segregated. We get in touch with the MEA and (Myanmar) Embassy. Generally, all these Myanmar Army personnel will be taken to Moreh (in Manipur) and then handed over to the (Myanmar) force," Kalita said.

He further explained the direction is very clear to the forces on the border that the common villagers seeking refuge to escape the conflict in Myanmar are not stopped and whenever they are ready, they are sent back.

"While doing that, the directions are very clear that no armed cadres will be allowed to come. Any armed cadres trying to come are addressed in an appropriate manner. There is a definite check on people with drugs and arms, and anybody caught is handed over to the police following the due procedure," Kalita said.

Currently, the Assam Rifles is managing the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur and Mizoram and they have border outposts in both the states along the international border, he added.

More than 31,000 people from Myanmar have been living in Mizoram. These foreigners, mostly from Chin state, fled following a military coup in Myanmar in February 2021. Many also took shelter in neighbouring Manipur.

In the last few weeks, dozens of Myanmar soldiers stationed near the international border with India fled to Mizoram following intense gunfights with militia group People's Defence Force (PDF). They were later escorted back to their country through Moreh in Manipur. PTI TR TR MNB