Arms for Manipur villagers to keep insurgents at bay

May 4th, 2008 - 6:10 pm ICT by admin  

Imphal, May 4 (IANS) Authorities in Manipur, one of northeast India’s worst insurgency-hit states, have decided to arm villagers with weapons to enable them protect themselves from militants and control rebel activities, officials said Sunday. “The state cabinet has decided to train up to 500 villagers in the districts of Thoubal and Imphal West and provide them weapons after local residents rose in revolt against excesses committed by armed militants who have been killing civilians and extorting cash,” said Manipur Irrigation and Flood Control Minister N. Biren.

A militant group March 24 killed three people - two teenaged girls and a boy - at Heirok village, and later killed another man at Chajing. Following these incidents, villagers rose in revolt and pressed the government to give them weapons.

To start with, 300 men from Heirok and 200 from Chajing villages would be recruited, given a month’s training on handling weapons and will be provided with .303 rifles. They will also be paid a monthly consolidated salary of Rs.3,000 each.

The new force, whose personnel shall be called ’special police officers’, would be in place from the middle of June.

Manipur, bordering Myanmar, has over two dozen active rebel groups pushing demands ranging from secession from India to maximum autonomy.

No insurgent group from Manipur is engaged in peace talks with the Indian government so far, although around six rag-tag Kuki ethnic rebel outfits are on a ceasefire with the authorities.

The decision to provide weapons to civilians has drawn criticism from civil society and rights groups.

“The move will encourage bloodshed in Manipur among people of the same ethnic origin,” said a statement by the United Committee Manipur (UCM), a civil society combine.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in Manipur during the past decade.

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