Four Kuki-Zo people, including two women, are missing after they were allegedly abducted on Tuesday morning by a Meitei mob. The fifth member of the group that was travelling together, a 65-year-old man, was rescued by security forces and has been seriously injured. The incident led to a heavy exchange of fire on the border of Kangpokpi district, where the Kuki-Zos are in a majority, and the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley.

At least nine people, including two police personnel and seven civilians, were injured in the firing, said Manipur police. All nine were from the Meitei community, said Ksh. Shivakanta Singh, superintendent of police, Imphal West.

The alleged abduction and firing follows reports of two Meitei teenagers going missing on Sunday morning. The Manipur Police on Monday said that they have detained three persons from the hill district of Kangpokpi related to the teenagers’ disappearance.

On Tuesday, an Army official told Scroll that the group of five Kuki-Zos were accosted near Kangchup Chingkhong around 8 am.

“They are relatives of a serving Indian Army soldier deployed outside the state,” the official said. “They were travelling in a Bolero. At a check post in Kangchup Chingkhong, manned by central forces and Manipur Police, they were overwhelmed by the local population.”

The official added: “One person was rescued, but he is severely injured and admitted to a hospital in Leimakhong. The four others are missing.”

An Assam Rifles official posted in Imphal told Scroll that the trigger for Tuesday’s firing was the kidnapping of Kuki people by the Meiteis.

“The Bolero lost its way and the Meitei people apprehended it. This incident led to the firing,” the Assam Rifles official said.

The incident triggered gunfights between armed Kukis and armed Meitei people around 11.30 am, which continued till 2 pm, the Army official said. “The firing has resulted in several injuries on both sides,” the official said.

In a statement released on Tuesday night, the Manipur police confirmed that the vehicle carrying the group of Kuki people was “confronted by an enraged mob”. “They forcibly took away four of them and their whereabouts are unknown,” the statement said. The police said that the fifth member of the group was “rescued by security forces and airlifted by chopper to Dimapur for further treatment”.

The police said “armed miscreants exchanged fire in the areas of K. Songlung hill range, Koutruk and Tairenpokp amidst the confrontation between the mob and the security forces.” In this firing incident, two police personnel and seven civilians sustained injuries and were admitted to the hospital, the police said.

The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum or ITLF, a civil society group representing Kukis, said the group of tribal men and women were travelling from Churachandpur towards L Phaijang village when “they were accosted by gunmen”.

ITLF spokesperson Ginza Vualzong in a statement alleged that the four middle-aged Kuki-Zo civilians were abducted by the Arambai Tenggol, a radical Meitei group.

“On hearing the news, angry tribal volunteers at the frontline fired at the Meitei side, resulting in a firefight,” Vualzong said.

“In the ensuing scuffle, the 65-year-old man got injured and fell unconscious,” the statement said. “Thinking him to be dead, he was left behind. The CRPF personnel later found him and transported him to Leimakhong.”

Among those missing are a 60-year-old woman, a 55-year-old woman, a 25-year-old man and a 40-year-old man, said Vualzong.

“We fear they may have been killed or are being tortured,” Vualzong said. “We fervently request central security forces to immediately launch an operation to rescue them.”

Meanwhile, the Committee on Tribal Unity has said it was serving a 24-hour ultimatum to the authorities to find the members of the Kuki-Zo community, reported the Ukhrul Times. The committee added that if the authorities fail to find the missing people, it would not be responsible for any untoward incidents.

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