“Would set up a self-governed separate administration”: ITLF

Debjit Mukherjee: The Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), a joint body of the Kuki-Zo tribes of Manipur, claimed it would set up a “self-governed separate administration” in Kuki-Zo inhabited areas if their demand was not heard by the state government in the next few weeks.

The forum said even after more than six months of ethnic strife in the northeastern state, the central government was yet to accept their demand for a separate administration.

During a protest rally in Churachandpur district on Wednesday, ITLF general secretary Maun Tombing alleged the government was not hearing the voices of the tribals.

“It has been over six months and nothing has been done regarding our demand for a separate administration from the Manipur government. If our voice is not heard within a couple of weeks, we will set up our self-government. Irrespective of whether the Centre recognises it or not, we will go ahead,” Tombing said.

“As in a state or a Union Territory, we will set up a self-government that will look into all matters in the Kuki-Zo areas. We have to do this since our voices have not been heard,” Tombing added.

The tribal group held the protest rally in Churachandpur district, chanting slogans against the Manipur government and demanding investigating agencies to probe cases of atrocities against tribals.

Manipur has remained gripped by recurring bouts of violence since ethnic clashes first erupted in May. More than 180 people have been killed since then.

The clashes have occurred over a number of grievances that both sides have against the other. However, the flashpoint of the crisis has been a move to give Meiteis Scheduled Tribe status, which has since been rolled back, and an attempt to turf out tribals living in protected forest areas.

Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal valley, while tribals, which include Nagas and Kukis, constitute 40 per cent and reside mainly in the hill districts.