The clash at Phougakchao Ikhai on NH2, which runs across the simmering border flashpoint located around 52km from Imphal, was the latest in a fresh phase of unrest triggered by displaced people on either side of the ethnic divide seeking to go back to their villages and homes.
The two-tier security deployment ahead of the Army barricade fired 200-odd tear gas shells to disperse the large gathering of protesters from the valley, a few thousand of whom refused to budge from there until evening. Sources said two of those wounded in the melee were RAF personnel.The build-up had started around 10.30am at Kwakta in Bishnupur in response to a call by the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) for a mass movement to remove the Army barricade so that people could visit their abandoned houses at Torbung in Churachandpur district.
Security forces first tried to stop the crowd at Kwakta, but the sheer size of the gathering ensured the march continued till Phougakchao Ikhai, close to the barricade. The protesters apparently wanted to push the barricade, which marks a “buffer zone” set up to keep troublemakers at bay on either side, to Torbung Bangla, about 2.5km further south on NH-2.
The marching crowd ran into nearly 300 security personnel — two companies of RAF, a company of CRPF, and state police personnel — in front of the barricade. For three hours, security officials negotiated with COCOMI leaders, some of whom were escorted across the barrier to meet Army commanders.
While the negotiations were on, groups of protesters attempted to enter the buffer zone from either side. Some even tried to lift the concertina wire, prompting the RAF unit to use tear gas.
Sources said some armed men fired at the RAF team and a riot-control vehicle, splinters from which hit the driver and a colleague.
Apunba Manipur Kanba Ima Lup president Lourembam Nganbi said later that hundreds of Meiteis who were forced to flee their homes at Torbung and its adjoining areas in the initial days of the flare-up starting May 3 were still unable to visit their homes because of the Army barricade.
On Tuesday, the state government had clamped curfew in five valley districts — Imphal West, Imphal East, Thoubal, Bishnupur and Kakching — in anticipation of trouble during the march by COCOMI.
State information and public relations minister Sapam Ranjan appealed to COCOMI to withdraw its agitation, saying the state government had removed many of the barricades already and would do so elsewhere once the situation normalised.
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He said around 700 displaced people of Torbung sheltered in relief camps had started to return to their homes over the past few days.
COCOMI media coordinator Somendro Thokchom said the organisation had urged the BJP-led government and officials to remove the barricade at Phougakchao Ikhai by August 30.