Indians return home from camps in riot-hit northeast

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New Delhi (Reuters) – Indian security personnel are escorting back to their homes thousands of people who fled to temporary camps after rioting and ethnic clashes in the northeast that killed about 70 people last week, officials said on Monday.

Fierce fighting broke out in the state of Manipur bordering Myanmar when members of about 30 tribal groups clashed with a non-tribal group, the ethnic majority Meitei, over the economic benefits and reservation status extended to some tribes.

“We are trying to ensure villagers return to their homes as leaders from opposing sides have started holding peace talks today,” said Lorho S. Pfoze, a member of parliament from the state.

“The situation is extremely tense and victims are scared to return to their villages as they fear clashes could erupt again.”

Civilians were taken home after the completion of combing operations near the border areas, a senior officer of the Indian Army said on condition of anonymity, adding that dawn-to-dusk curfew is to continue this week.

Police in Manipur’s capital of Imphal said 62 people were killed in the fighting that had raged in the hills and some parts of the valley, but there was no violence over the weekend. Three politicians of the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the death toll was around 70 and more than 18,000 villagers had been forced to flee after armed men attacked shops and homes in four districts.

Members of rights groups in Imphal said the latest round of tension began last month after the Manipur High Court asked the government to consider the Meitei community’s plea for the constitutionally defined status of a scheduled tribe.

However, recognised tribes oppose the grant of such status.

“The tribal and non-tribal groups have had a history of jealousy over distribution economic resources and opportunities but this time their anger just could not be contained,” said one of the participants in the peace talks, Khuraijam Athouba.

India reserves some government jobs, college places and elected seats – from village councils to parliament – for those categorised as scheduled tribes, in a form of affirmative action to tackle historical structural inequality and discrimination.

“We are urging both sides to really put an end to the violence or they will have to live under strict curfew for months,” added Athouba, a member of the Coordination Committee on Manipur Integrity.

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