Exactly a year after the biggest ambush on the military took place in Manipur, in which as many as 17 soldiers of the 6 Dogra regiment were killed and another 16 injured, militants killed six soldiers of 29 Assam Rifles in Chandel district this afternoon.
The attack took place at 1 pm on Sunday and the victims include a junior commanding officer of the army. Incidentally both incidents have taken place in Chandel district. While last year’s ambush, which took place on June 4, took place in Paorlon village in Chandel, today’s incident took place between Holingjang and Hensing villages.
“A convoy of Assam Rifles while returning after assessing a landslide area in Holingjang to the Batallion headquarters location at Joupi in Chandel district of South Manipur had an encounter with suspected valley based insurgent groups…In the ensuing fire fight one Junior Commissioned Officer and five soldiers were martyred. The troops retaliated but the insurgents managed to get away under thick forest cover and bad weather,” said an official statement of the Eastern Command in Kolkata. The bodies of the soldiers are being flown back to their home towns.
“The area of the encounter has been cordoned off and intensive combing operations have been launched to neutralize the insurgent group and prevent them from crossing over to Myanmar,” said the statement.
Both sites happen to be in New Somtal area of Chandel district, an area which has in the past been notorious for its insurgent activities and attacks. A convoy of the 29 Assam Rifles was attacked when they were returning, in two columns, after having inspected some landslides which had taken place in the area. Incessant rain in Manipur over the past few days have created a near-flood situation in the state. New Samtal is situated 125 kilometers from Imphal city and borders Myanmar.
Sources in the Assam Rifles said that the attack is suspected to be carried out by a combined force of PLA, UNLF and PREPAK – three of the Imphal valleys seven insurgent groups which form the CorCom (an umbrella body of all the valley insurgent groups. Apart from the casualties, the militants took off with one LMG, four AK 47s and one Insas Rifle.
Last year the attack was masterminded and carried out by the NSCN (K) – a Naga insurgent group, with the assistance of the KYKL and KCP – two valley groups which sporadically operate in the area. The troops of 6 Dogra Regiment were headed from their Company Operating Base in Moltuk toward Pallel when their convoy had been ambushed. They were returning to their army base to be replaced by another unit.
The NSCN (K), which had openly claimed responsibility for last year’s attack, had abrogated its ceasefire understanding with the Indian Government in March last year after its leader SS Khaplang accused the government of dealing with the NSCN (IM) exclusively. The attack came on the heels of the historic Naga Peace Accord having been signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and IM’s Isaac Chisi Swu and Th Muivah. NSCN (K) carried out the attack in collaboration with KYKL and KCP since they were unfamiliar with the area.
But this year’s attack has been carried out by the CorCom and the motive behind the attack so far remains unclear. Chandel has been one of the most violent districts of Manipur, due to its shared border with Myanmar making it easy for militants to enter the country, attack and then escape across the border. It is the only district in Manipur which equally populated by the Nagas and the Kukis and strangely was for decades under the Meitei insurgent group – the UNLF which had “liberated’’ parts of Chandel till the Army re-established its dominance through its “Operation Somtal –II’’ in 2008, forcing the UNLF to flee to Myanmar. New Somtal, strangely enough, falls under the domination of the Kuki insurgent groups, who are under a suspension of operation agreement with the Indian government and after last year’s attack had vowed that they would not allow the recurrence of such an incident.
Soldiers of Assam Rifles martyred in south Imphal
The martyrs are Subedar BK Sharma from Himachal Pradesh, Hav Surjeet Barla from Jharkhand, Rifleman Mahesh Gurung from Uttrakhand, Rifleman AK Pandey from Bihar, Rifleman Pawan Kumar from J&K and Rifleman Bhupinder Singh from Himachal Pradesh.
The mortal remains of the martyrs are being taken to their home towns by a team of Assam Rifles personnel.
Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi, Army Commander Eastern Command has expressed his deep condolences to the families of the brave martyrs. He said “the nation owes gratitude to the ultimate sacrifice made by the Assam Rifles personnel like them in the fight against insurgents. We in the army are committed to provide all necessary support to their families in this hour of grief.” He stated that such acts of violence by insurgents reinforces our resolve to carry out relentless operations against such anti-national elements for furtherance of peace in the region.