Villages reduced to `ghost settlements` as anxious residents fail to return

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Photo credit: CORE, Manipur

IMPHAL, June 17: The June 4 ambush near Paraolon Village in Chandel district killing 18 soldiers including a JCO and injuring several others has struck terror in the hearts and minds of the people.

More than a fortnight later, the fear is yet to subside for the villagers of Paraolon, Charlon and Kotal Khuntak.

Few hours after the ambush, these villagers fearing reprisal from the Army in their follow up operation had started fleeing from their homestead and now the villages lie completely abandoned,.

Literally, the villages resemble `ghost settlements`™ now.

It is pertinent to note that three days post the ambush, the commander of the 3rd Corp, Bipin Rawat had sent out a loud and clear message against people who are giving open support to the militants implying that some villagers had extended support to the militants perpetrating the ambush.

He was talking to a group of reporters at the Imphal Tulihal Airport while honouring the soldiers killed in the ambush.

And now, after almost two weeks, the security forces have granted access to the media beyond the ambush site which had remained virtually under siege ever since the deadly ambush as even the State government including its Police department had been reportedly kept in the dark of the operation.

A team of media persons under the All Manipur Working Journalists`™ Union today made a tour of the affected villages.

The ambush site is located barely a kilometre away from Paraolon village and the battalion of the Dogra regiment is about 10 km which is also the nearest security post next to Larong 20 AR post about 30 km from Paraolon.

During the tour, the team could still see the charred Army trucks, belongings of the soldiers, bullet projectiles, and burnt bushes at the ambush site.

The two trucks charred during the ambush and full of bullet holes remain stationed at Paraolon Village.

One of the truck was carrying six barrels of fuel and edible oil when the 6 Dogra Regiment convoy was attacked by the combined team of UGs.

Along the 10 km stretch from Paraolon to Moltuk there are only four villages – Paraolon, Charlon, Kotal Khunthak and Moltuk `“ separated by a few kilometers each.

Of these four villages, villagers of Moltuk, a Kuki village decided to stay back in their village.

However, they did feel the pinch of the Army operation as they were not allowed to venture out of their village even to attend to their fields.

A villager identified as Kunkhothong said `We were asked not to venture out far from our village even to attend to our fields, hunting or other activities which is necessary for existence. We are now running low on our food stock`.

He further expressed disappointment against the civil administration alleging that it has failed to come to the rescue of the people.

On the other hand, in the other three villages there was tell-tale signs of how the fear gripped villagers scooted from their villages leaving behind their homesteads and domesticated animals.

A pair of children`™s slippers was found lying near a doorway, while women`™s clothing were found in front of another. Only the domesticated animals and fowl were seen prowling the entire villages.

In Paraolon, as soon as the media team stepped out of their vehicles, a hunting dog approached them, which is uncommon in normal times.

These hunting dogs are considered quite aggressive and don`™t welcome strangers in such tame ways.

However, the dog was in a pitiable condition, left unattended by its owners for the past fortnight or so. Its bones were sticking to the skin.

A kitten which probably died of starvation was also found lying in the premises of a house.

The three villages are inhabited by the Lamkang- Naga tribes which just about 80 households altogether.

The media team also met with the Paraolon Village chief, James Dilbung at Chandel.

He said his village has already experienced the pain of gun violence in the past and the villagers are weary of such incidents.

In the early 1990`™s, five villagers had fallen victims to the Kuki-Naga clashes, he said.

He said the three villages have been trying to rehabilitate from the earlier Kuki-Naga clash when the June 4 ambush happened.

James also said that the concerned authorities have also been apprised about the grievances of the people.

He further asserted that only 10 villagers were staying in their village when the ambush occurred.

The other villagers, he claimed were all staying in Chandel headquarters regarding the June 1 ADC election.

The village chief also denied any harassment meted out by the security personnel during the operation.

However, the villagers have fled and are staying in Chandel district headquarter, he continued.

The village chief further denying any harassment meted out by security forces said that most of the villagers fled out of fear and are taking shelter at Chandel district head quarter.

Meanwhile, in a separate enquiry on whether a Road Opening Party was dispatch ahead of the convoy, Army sources confirmed that an ROP team was there, however, there was a huge gap between the ROP and the convoy.

It is also learnt that the operation ended on June 9.

Despite the end of operation the border is being sealed till date and night curfew continues along the border, said the same source.

It has been informed that the army has contacted the villagers through their leaders and trying to convince them to come to their villages. In line with that it also divulged that a medical camp will also be conducted after they return.

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