The Indian Army on Saturday released 12 militants associated with an armed Meitei group after being surrounded by a mob of over 1,200 people in the Imphal East district.

The Army’s Spear Corps said that it did so to avoid any “collateral damage” amid the ongoing unrest in the state.

Ethnic clashes between Meiteis and Kukis in Manipur have left more than 100 persons dead, over 300 injured and thousands displaced since May 3. The violence broke out after thousands of people participated in a protest march to oppose the demand of the majority Meiteis to be included in the Scheduled Tribes category.

On Saturday, security forces had launched an operation in the village of Itham and laid a cordon in the area. The Army said that during the operation, twelve members of Meitei militant group Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup were apprehended “along with arms, ammunition and war-like stores”.

Among those who were apprehended was Moirangthem Tamba alias Uttam, who was accused of having masterminded an ambush on an Army unit in 2015 that had left 20 soldiers dead.

However, the Army said that a mob of 1,200 to 1,500 people led by women surrounded the area and prevented security forces from going ahead with the operation.

“Keeping in view the sensitivity of use of kinetic force against large irate mob led by women and likely casualties due to such action, considered decision was taken to hand over all 12 cadres to local leader,” the Spear Corps said.

Security forces subsequently lifted the cordon and left the area with weapons and ammunition recovered from the militants.