Inter-ethnic clashes break out in Manipur, India, 60 people die, 20,000 others flee

NEW DELHI, – As many as 60 people are reported to have died in inter-ethnic clashes in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur.

Mobs attacked homes, vehicles, churches and temples, local officials said.

In a press conference Monday (8/5/2023), Head of Manipur State, N Biren Singh, said more than 200 people were injured and tens of thousands displaced as a result of the clashes.

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The violence started last week after indigenous communities protested the desire of the main ethnic group in the state to gain tribal status.

Members of the Meitei community, which makes up 53 percent of Manipur’s population, have been pushing for years to be included in the Scheduled Tribes category.

That status would give them access to forest land and guarantee them rations of civil service and places in educational institutions.

Communities that are already recognized as Scheduled Tribes, especially the Kuki who live in hilly districts, fear that they will lose control of their ancestral forest lands if Meitei’s request is accepted.

On Monday, India’s Home Minister, Amit Shah, told news channels that the situation in Manipur was under control and appealed to the public to maintain peace.

According to him, the Manipur State government will consult all stakeholders before taking a decision on this matter.

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Thousands of soldiers have been deployed in the state to maintain order. Curfews were imposed in several districts and internet access was temporarily cut.

Last week, the governor of the state issued a fire order in extreme cases to control the situation.

India’s Supreme Court expressed concern over the violence and asked the state government to submit an updated report on relief and rehabilitation measures after one week.

Singh said Monday that more than 20,000 people displaced in relief camps had been moved to safety. He said efforts were underway to save another 10,000 people.

Most of the refugees are women and children.

Local residents say they are worried about their future. “We don’t feel safe now,” L Sanglun Simte, a resident in the state capital Imphal, told AFP news agency.

The 29-year-old ethnic Kuki resident camped outside Imphal Airport with 11 of his family members.

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On Sunday (7/5/2023) the army said the violence had subsided after they had worked tirelessly for the last 96 hours to rescue people from all communities, quell violence and restore normalcy.

However, the situation is still tense in a number of areas.

While the locals are living in army shelters, other states are sending rescue teams to get their people out of Manipur.

Several states such as Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have arranged special flights for refugees.

Singh said more than 1,000 guns had been stolen from security personnel, of which about 200 had been recovered. He added that all weapons must be returned to the police station; otherwise, the government will launch an operation to get it back.

The violence started Wednesday (3/5/2023). The mob damaged vehicles and set fire to homes and shops in Imphal and several other districts.

Video and photos from the site showed buildings burning, with thick black smoke blanketing the streets.

The military said they were controlling the situation.

On Monday, residents started leaving their homes to buy food and medicine after the curfew was relaxed for several hours in the affected areas, the PTI news agency reported.

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