Pillai meets Manipur chief minister over economic blockade


Imphal: Home Secretary G.K. Pillai Tuesday met Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh and chalked out a broad strategy to get urgently supplies of essentials into the state in the wake of the economic blockade enforced by Naga groups, officials said.

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A government spokesperson said Pillai was sent to Imphal under express instructions from the prime minister to help break the deadlock with Manipur reeling under an acute food crisis due to the blockade.

Naga students’ groups from Manipur have for the past week effected the blockade to protest Manipur’s decision not to allow separatist Naga leader Thuingaleng Muivah to visit his birthplace in a Manipur village.

“Several things were discussed, but the priority was to get supplies of food and medicines to Manipur restored immediately,” the official said.

“Under no circumstances shall Manipur be allowed to suffer any longer and Pillai assured all central help in breaking the deadlock,” the official said.

Pillai is understood to have asked the army to help escort trucks carrying essentials via National Highway No.53 connecting Assam with Manipur – the highway is generally not used by truckers as the road condition is not good, besides militant groups are active in the area.

Pillai was accompanied by R.S. Pandey, the government’s interlocutor for the Naga peace talks.

“Pillai and Pandey are also expected to hold talks with Naga community leaders to lift the economic blockade immediately,” the official said.

Hundreds of trucks carrying essentials and medicines were stranded in the adjoining state of Nagaland with protesters blocking the National Highway 39, the main lifeline to Manipur.

The Naga groups are protesting the state government’s decision not to allow Muivah, the 75-year-old general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), to visit his birthplace in Ukhrul district for fear that it would stoke social unrest. Muivah has since deferred his visit to Ukhrul.

Several hospitals have stopped routine surgeries due to dearth of oxygen cylinders. Landlocked Manipur depends on supplies from outside the region with trucks from the rest of India carrying essentials passing through Nagaland.

“The ongoing blockade has resulted in acute shortage of food, medicines and other essential commodities, and soon the entire life support system in the state would collapse,” said Babloo Loitongbam, leader of Human Rights Alert.

The group sent an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday, seeking his intervention.

“A litre of petrol was selling at Rs.200, a cooking gas cylinder sold at Rs.1,500, while a kilogram of rice was selling at Rs.60 to Rs.70,” said Sunil Singh, an Imphal resident.

Simmering tension continued in the bordering areas between Manipur and Nagaland after three supporters of Muivah were killed and 70 were injured in clashes between the security forces and Naga protesters.

“It is nothing less than anarchy in Manipur now,” said T. Singh, a college teacher.

The NSCN-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) is operating a ceasefire with New Delhi since 1997 with the two sides holding close to 60 rounds of peace talks aimed at ending one of India’s longest running insurgencies.

Manipur maintains the ceasefire with the NSCN-IM does not extend beyond Nagaland and hence Muivah’s visit to Manipur was not acceptable.

The NSCN-IM had earlier demanded that all Naga-inhabited areas in the northeast, including Manipur, be integrated by slicing off parts of three neighbouring states to unite 1.2 million Nagas and create a Greater Nagaland.

The demand is strongly opposed by the states of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.

The violent insurgency in Nagaland has claimed around 25,000 lives since the country’s independence in 1947.