Won't Deposit Licenced Arms, Need For Defence: Kuki-Zo Group In Manipur Ahead Of Elections

Kuki-Zo group ITLF in a statement said licenced guns submitted last year have not been returned


A Kuki-Zo civil society organisation that is spearheading the call for a separate administration carved out of Manipur has asked members of their tribes not to give their licenced guns to police stations for safe-keeping ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, citing safety concerns amid the ethnic tensions with the valley-majority Meiteis.

District magistrates in Manipur and other states had issued orders informing the public to hand over their licenced guns to the police, to be returned after the polls, following the Election Commission’s model code, and to ensure compliance with the Representation of the People Act which bans civilians from carrying guns in and around polling booths.

The Kuki-Zo group Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) in a statement said licenced guns submitted last year have not been returned yet. “We need every available weapon to defend our ‘right to life’ and our land…” the ITLF said in the statement signed by its chairman Pagin Haokip, and secretary Muan Tombing.

“The state government’s attempt to view the current dispensation based solely on election related matter and thus issuing order for submission of weapons to arms licence holders at jurisdictional police station may not serve appropriate considering the plight and uncertainty we are facing. This will only invite more controversy and insecurity that will rightly offend the Kuki-Zo people,” the ITLF said.

Sources said the order is not state specific and not initiated by the state authorities on their own, but is a part of the code of the Election Commission that is followed before the Lok Sabha elections.

The ITLF in the statement asked members of the Kuki-Zo tribes “not to comply” with the order to hand over licenced guns to the police. The Kuki-Zo tribes have often alleged Meitei armed groups such as the Arambai Tenggol have crossed sensitive areas guarded by central forces to attack their villages.

The Meiteis have made counter-allegations, pointing at Kuki-Zo insurgents attacking civilians by taking advantage of the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement, a sort of ceasefire signed with the Centre and the state government. Both sides call their armed groups “village defence volunteers”.

The ITLF’s call to defy the order for depositing licenced guns at police stations violated the Election Commission’s (EC) strict code, police sources said, adding the EC will be made aware of the statement by the Kuki-Zo group for action.

Over 4,000 guns of all kinds were looted amid the violence in Manipur. Many police stations in and around Imphal valley were raided by mobs, and many were shot when they overran the guards. On May 3, 2023, the day violence broke out, a gun shop in Kuki-Zo-dominated Churachandpur was raided by mobs. N Ibomcha, the shop owner, later told local media it was the first looting of a weapon storage when clashes erupted.

A similarity between the “village defence volunteers” of both sides is that they appear to be well-armed and well-equipped with modern battle gear. The security forces have frequently recovered Russian-origin AK and US-origin M series assault rifles, and gun models commonly used by both the junta’s army and pro-democracy insurgents in neighbouring Myanmar.

The Manipur ethnic violence broke out over cataclysmic disagreements on sharing land, resources, political representation, and affirmative action policies between the Kuki-Zo tribes and the Meiteis. Over 200 have died in the clashes, and thousands have been internally displaced.

The Kuki-Zo tribes are a majority in the hill areas in southern Manipur and a few other districts. The Meiteis are a majority in the valley areas.

Manipur has two Lok Sabha seats – Inner Manipur, and Outer Manipur. The entire Inner Manipur constituency and some areas under Outer Manipur will vote on April 19. The remaining areas under Outer Manipur will vote on April 26. Votes will be counted on June 4.

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