The tale of two stories

Published on March 24, 2005

By Donn Morgan Kipgen

March 25, 2005: Big things happened in Sadar Hills area. They happened fast and hot, and happened for the wrong reasons. The recent slayings of nine suspected Kuki militants at Turibari, near Kangpokpi, by the 14th AR personnel on 13th September, 03 and to make the matter worst, another four Kuki villagers of Tingpibung by 25th AR personnel near Sanakeithel the very next day have caused a spontaneous outrage among the Kuki community. These came even as the slaying of three Kuki kids at Gelbung; Sadar Hills on 13th July, 03 has still remained unenquired judicially. It is worth mentioning that these under-14 juveniles could not have been charged or tried even for a capital crime in the court of law as a rule. It was reported the slain three kids were dressed up in oversized combat fatigue.

Now, things are not as simple as they were made to be by the authorities. There are things which more than meet the eyes. The fact that all the nine victims of 13th Sept incident were ‘surrendered’ KNF (MC) militants and that the cause of their deaths was multiple precision gunshot wounds are definitely undisputable but it is the manner of death which remains understandably controversial, as in other scores of cases in this long and volatile CI Ops in Manipur. The contention here is not about why they were killed, it is all about how they were killed. Somebody needs to come out with some convincing stories.

In an unprecedented move, the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) and the Kuki People’s Movement for Human Rights have threatened to go to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and even to the Supreme Court if the State Government fails to constitute judicial inquiries into the incidents. They said that it was about right time to stop these, what they called ‘fake encounters’. Even the president of the KIM, P Gangte, a retired IPS officer, went on record that the Turibari incident was ‘purely and definitely a fake encounter’ – quite a pretty strong statement! However, as things stand, Gangte might not be entirely wrong after all. When it comes to encounters and gunshot wounds and crime scene investigation, none could have been more qualified than a former professional police officer like P Gangte. He should definitely know what he is talking about.

Moreover, there is also a credible allegation that there were no bullet entry marks on the uniforms worn by the slain militants even though the bodies were riddled with bullets. This is a pretty serious allegation. But the problem is that this allegation is more of a fact that anything else. Looking at the facts of the matter at hand, the AR authority has a lot of explaining to do. To add salt to multiple injuries, another two innocent Kuki villagers were among the four civilian ruthlessly shot dead by the CRPF personnel in indiscriminate ‘retaliatory’ firing at Sugnu Awang Leikai on 20th Sept 03, a la Heirangoithong, RIMS, Moirang Lamkhai, Churachandpur bazaar and Pangei. What a memorable legacies the CRPF would have left behind. These things are bound to happen again and again unless the Government takes proper, necessary and decisive actions to punish the erring SF personnel.

The 13th Sept Turibari ‘incident’ left more questions than credible answers. The first question was: “Why was the AR authority so sure that they had killed exactly 10 militants out of exactly 10 known militants in a fierce pre-down gun-battle in the first place? How could they pre-ascertain the full details and the exact number of the militants in an all-out gun battle under the cover of darkness? It was just amazing how nine of them were immediately identified there on the spot. Surely there possibly could not have been any chance for introduction of any sort under the circumstance. Local people steadfastly maintained that the slain militant were actually surrendered KNF (MC) activists who were kept under the ‘protection’ of the 14th AR post at Kangpokpi.

They also claimed that the liquidated militants were used as ‘informers’ and alleged that some of them were taken along in all raids and operations conducted in that area. They backed their claims by naming all the surrendered militants, adding that there is still one KNF (MC) member in their ‘protective custody’. The most damning claim was that the local population did not hear any sound of fierce gun battle at that particular time in that particular area, certainly not a 30 minute fierce gun battle. It should be kept in mind that these Kuki village elders have nothing to gain and everything to lose by divulging the truth openly in public. They said that they had enough of being silent spectators.

Actually, withholding of facts is accessory to a crime. If we can believe BBC or CNN newsreader speaking over 10,000 km away in English language, there is no way to disbelieve a fellow citizen testifying a few feet in front of us in our own mother-tongue. The Government needs to calm down the petrified hill-people, especially the Kukis, who are much harassed and cruelly victimized by the ‘friends of the hill people’. Ever since the beginning of the GOI-NSCN (IM) peace talk, a special but unflattering attention has been given to the Kuki UG outfits by the SF personnel, especially the army and the AR. And boy, what an electrifying attention! The total insecurity caused by the security forces personnel has reached a new height in the hill areas.

Most of the hapless Kuki villagers in the Sadar Hills area have been fearfully living on the edge, constantly preparing for the worst. The most tragic part is that they have no one to turn to, and none to share their grievances. They have already resigned to their fates. They are the unfortunate victims of circumstances. The people’s representatives (MLAs/Ministers) of all Sadar Hills areas are most pathetic and highly irresponsible to their bounden duties. They do not possess the acumen and the guts to stand up for their very own long suffering people as and when most needed. Had they been more active, practical and decisive like other MLAs and Ministers, no one could have played so cruelly with the people of Sadar Hills so relentlessly.

Like the attention given to the 20th Sept Sugnu incident, the Government must thoroughly investigate the 13th July Gelbung, 13th Sept Turibari and the 14th Sept Sanakeithel incidents to show that there is still an elected Government with a civil administration in Manipur. For an investigation into the Turibari incident, these are certain facts which need to be taken into serious consideration. The official report said that the AR personnel were ambushed and thus came under heavy automatic fire from three directions in close range, fired by no less than 10 hard-core militants. As it was a surprise attack, all the AR personnel would have presented full and open targets to 10 gun sights within a ‘kill distance’ from vantage positions. Such hard-core militant would surely have been well-trained in handling weapons and, therefore, ought to be good shots.

Under the circumstance, it would have been most natural that ambushed AR column would have suffered the first casualties or at least some gunshot injuries. Incredibly, not a single jawan, all open targets, get hit, not even a single scratch. Then another 30 minutes ‘fierce’ gun battle ended with the death of 9 hard-core militants and again not even a single injury to much larger force — which means more targets. Things did not just add up. In a 2 hours 45 minutes stand off, as officially reported, the total gun fighting period as a whole would be most likely around 45-50 minutes. In such fierce automatic gun battles, the slain well-armed militants would have definitely gun battled, the slain well-armed militants would have definitely fired and expended at least 300 rounds of ammunitions, whereas the SF personnel, by their own account would have automatically responded with anywhere between 500-700 rounds of ammunition to do the needful.

Hence, nearly a thousand empty cases/spent cartridges would have strewn around the fierce gun battles’ site. Such a large number of empty shells cannot simply vanish or remain unnoticed. Moreover, there had to be clear telltale signs of all-out gunfights so fiercely fought. Bullet projectiles would be embedded in tree trunks, branches, logs and on the ground. The weapons and other materials recovered which were shown to the media personnel were 1 M-16, 1 AK-56, 1 G-3, 1 country made AK rifle, 2 country carbine, 1 pistol, 1 very light pistol, 1 hand grenade and 86 round of various ammunitions, about 20 empty shells, and nothing else. Surprisingly, there were neither extra or empty magazines nor any ammunition pouches. For a planned attack of that scale, each of the slain militant would have at least an extra magazine each-about 9 in all.

In order to sustain two fierce gun battles under any condition, the militants would have been armed with at least 50-60 extra rounds (about 500-800 rounds in all) with extra magazines, otherwise they could not have the required fire-power to last them for more than 5 minutes of a steady single gunfight and certainly not for the second 30 minutes of fierce gun battle as officially reported. A 30 round clipped M-16 and AK-56 assault rifles can fire up to 400 rounds of 7.62 mm ammo per minute which are most devastatingly effective within 250 yards. Investigators have to find out how those AR personnel managed to dodge volleys of unexpected projectiles whizzing in at over 800 meters per second from 3 directions.

Then they have to find out where the ambushers positioned and concealed themselves so as to find and recover hundreds of empty cases and extra magazines and clips, if at all there were two fierce gun-battles. A dozen or two empty cartridges with half a dozen unspent clips did not make any sense at all. Magazine needs to be fed during gun battles. However, it is not for us civilians to jump the gun and accuse anybody of any wrong doing, or to say who is wrong or right, without any solid evidence. The law, if indeed is one, must take its own course. The judicial investigators have to prove that the victims of Gelbung, Turibari and Tingpibung were shot dead in actual gun battles; whether or not they were real UG activist is irrelevant. They have to prove that there were fierce gun battles at those particular sites at that particular period beyond any reasonable doubt with physical and circumstantial evidences admissible in the court of law.

From now on the SF authorities should have to be more convincing and practicable in their approach. They should be wary of exposing themselves to harsh criticism. However, armed forces personnel must have to be given their dues for doing excellent jobs for the security of the nation. The people should also try to avoid demonizing the SP personnel as a whole just because of the irresponsible activities of few personnel. That they risk their lives and limbs everyday in order to maintain law and order is an undeniable fact. And it is the duty of the judiciary and the legislature to see that the SF personnel exercise their duties sincerely and honestly within and according to the written law of the land.

All the SF personnel, especially the army and the AR, should honor and preserve the proud and chequered history of the Indian armed forces. What is most needed now is for the SF personnel and the UGs to acknowledge the existence of Universal Human Rights and its significance. To be the “Friends of the Hill People”, they need to secure total security for the people. Well, dead men do tell tales and crime scenes, or gun battle scenes, are the silent witnesses. The truths are out there, silently waiting to be unlocked by the right person in the right manner at the right time.