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Showdown averted as Manipur blockade suspended

Imphal, June 15 (IANS) A major showdown between security forces and tribal Naga protesters was averted with the apex tribal students’ group of Nagaland announcing that it would suspend a more than two-month blockade of roads leading to Manipur by Tuesday evening.

‘We are temporarily suspending the economic blockade from 6 p.m. Tuesday following personal requests by the prime minister and the home minister after we met them last evening (Monday) in New Delhi,’ Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) president Mutsiikhoyo Yhobu told IANS.

Several Naga tribal groups have blocked the main highway into Manipur state since April 11 to protest against a government decision preventing separatist leader, Thuingaleng Muivah, from visiting his birthplace.

The two-month blockade of main roads has led to severe shortages of food and medical supplies and soaring prices.

Landlocked Manipur depends on supplies from outside the region with trucks from the rest of India carrying essentials passing through Nagaland.

‘In view of the decision by the NSF to suspend their agitation, we have decided not to use force to break the deadlock for the time being, but would provide paramilitary escorts to truckers carrying essentials into Manipur to avoid any untoward incidents,’ a senior Manipur police official said, requesting anonymity.

On Monday, union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai had said paramilitary troopers from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force (BSF) would escort trucks carrying food and medicines by National Highway 39 from Assam to Manipur passing through Nagaland.

‘We may resume our agitation once again if the Manipur government fails to address our primary demands,’ the NSF leader said.

The demands include better facilities for the nearly 500,000 Naga settlers in Manipur, besides allowing Muivah, the general secretary of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), to visit his ancestral home in Manipur.

The Manipur government had banned 75-year-old Muivah’s trip to his home village, saying it could stoke unrest.

On May 6, six tribal Naga protestors were killed and up to 70 injured in clashes with police as Muivah tried to defy a ban on him returning to his village.

‘Even if the NSF had decided to withdraw the blockade, we still believe there is fair amount of threat perception to the truckers from Naga tribal people. So we request the central government to provide security escorts to bring in supplies through National Highway 39,’ N. Biren Singh, Manipur government spokesperson and senior minister, told IANS.

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