Thousands Throng Manipur Streets as Anxiety Mounts over Naga Settlement; COCOMI Calls for Shutdown
Even as Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh appealed for calm, the Meira Paibi (women organizations) took out torch rallies in Imphal and Kuki inhabited hilly areas to voice their concern on the issue.
People take out protests in Manipur.
Imphal: The situation in Manipur remains tense as thousands flooded the streets on Thursday, holding coordinated rallies in conjunction with the Naga peace talks between the Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), Isak-Muivah that has left people wondering what happens next. In Manipur, the worries are about the state’s territorial integrity.
The government on Thursday released a statement dispelling rumours of a breakthrough in talks and stating that any settlement with the Naga groups would be reached only after consultations with all stakeholders including Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and that their concerns will be taken into consideration.
Even as Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh appealed for calm, the Meira Paibi (women organizations) took out torch rallies in Imphal and Kuki inhabited hilly areas to voice their concern on the issue. Raising slogans, they asserted that the Naga agreement should not affect the territorial integrity of Manipur.
Members of COCOMI on sit-in.
Security has been tightened across the state with paramilitary forces on standby. Meanwhile, the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an apex body of seven organisations have extended their ‘cease work agitation’ till 6pm on Friday.
A 20-hour mass shutdown by COCOMI disrupted normal life across Imphal valley, even though emergency services were kept out of the purview of the agitation. The streets wore a deserted look as people from different communities, including Naga and Kuki groups, rallied in the streets and took part in public meetings.
“If the government of India does not keep its word - what PM Modi had given to the people of Manipur in December 2017 - the people will decide their own course of action, and COCOMI will be in no position to control it,” said Khuraijam Athouba, a member of the group.
“We also appeal to the government to remove or withdraw all the paramilitary forces deployed across the state capital. Many schools and colleges have now been occupied by the forces, and this has created a cognitive threat to the people of Manipur. The situation can become volatile as apprehensions remain high,” he added.
Thousands take to the streets to participate in the candlelight vigil.
On the other hand, the Thadous or the largest constituent of the Kuki ethnic group in Manipur has asked the Centre to conclude the ‘Indo-Kuki’ talks alongside the ‘Indo-Naga’ peace process while opposing any move to include Kuki land in the final settlement with the Nagas. Both Kukis and Nagas share space in the hills of Manipur, each claiming the land to be historically theirs – the Kukis are apprehensive that the settlement in Naga political issue could result in a unique administrative set-up for the Nagas at the cost of the land and rights of the Kukis.
A delegation representing the Thadou people of Manipur on Wednesday met Centre’s interlocutor for the Kuki talks, AB Mathur, seeking a settlement that would be acceptable to the Kuki communities as well.
“We emphasised on a mutually acceptable solution to both Kuki and Naga political problems on the basis of equal respect, equal treatment and equal recognition of the political aspirations of both communities for genuine and permanent peace and solution in the Northeast,” said Michael Lamjathang Haokip, secretary-general of Thadou Students’ Association.
The Centre had in 2005 signed the Suspension of Operations with the Kuki armed groups, whose factions are clubbed under two umbrella organisations – the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and United People’s Front (UPF). The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government started political talks with the KNO and UPF in 2016. In March 2017, the Centre appointed former Intelligence Bureau director Dineshwar Sharma as the interlocutor for Kuki peace talks, and he was replaced by AB Mathur three months later.
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