Ibobi invites Kuki groups for talks

Imphal, Jan. 23: Manipur chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh and deputy chief minister Gaikha-ngam today offered to hold talks with the Kuki State Demand Committee and urged it to reconsider its decision to resume the public blockade in Kuki-inhabited areas from tomorrow.

The committee had on Monday announced the resumption of its public blockade from 5pm of January 24 and asked all government establishments to withdraw from Kuki areas. It suspended the blockade on December 14 after the Union home ministry promised to hold talks on the demand for a Kuki state. The blockade began on November 17.

"The demand committee should come forward and talk about their grievances. We can settle issues through dialogue," Ibobi Singh told reporters on the sidelines of the inaugural function of a three-day tribal cultural festival here today.

The chief minister appealed to the committee to reconsider resumption of the blockade.

Making a similar appeal, Gaikhangam, who also attended the programme, said the home ministry had initiated talks with Kuki militant groups to settle the issue and if any organisation had grievances, they could talk to the Centre and place their demands.

The committee also announced the boycott of Republic Day celebrations to mark "severance of ties with India and the Manipur government".

A home ministry team had visited Imphal last month and held talks with leaders of Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and United Peoples Front (UPF) on the suspension of operations agreement.

"The culture of strikes and blockades does not bring any good. We hope the committee will not resort to any form of violence and impose strike and blockades," Gaikhangam said.

Manipur is a very small state and no community should make attempts to divide it, he said. Responding to a question, Gaikhangam said if anyone resorted to violence, they would be dealt with according to law.

The three-day cultural festival organised by the Tribal Research Institute, Imphal, is an attempt to unite all communities divided by politics.

The festival also gave an opportunity to both the chief minister and deputy chief minister to remind all communities living in the state that they were Manipuris. "We are all Manipuris and let us pray and work for ushering in peace, progress and communal harmony in the New Year," Ibobi Singh said.

Nearly 40 communities are taking part in the festival, where cultural troupes presented songs and dances on the opening day. The remaining two days will see more performances of folk songs and dances. At the end of each day's programme, delegates will enjoy a grand feast together.

"The festival could not have come at a better time as such a forum could help in bringing better understanding and unity among different communities," Gaikhangam said.

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