Militants of the banned People’s Liberation Army and Manipur Naga People’s Front jointly carried out the deadliest ambush in the northeast in six years, killing an Army Colonel officiating as the commanding officer of 46 Assam Rifles, his wife and their six-year-old son, along with four personnel of the paramilitary force near the India-Myanmar border in Churachandpur district.
Col Viplav Tripathi’s convoy, comprising a quick-reaction team of the Assam Rifles, was passing by Sehken village in Singngat subdivision around 10.30am when an IED blast set them up for a volley of indiscriminate firing from the forested hillside that not only felled the Army officer from Chhattisgarh’s Raigarh, but also his wife Anuja and their son Abir. The four other Assam Rifles personnel killed in the ambush were identified as Suman Swargiari, Khatnei Konyak, RP Meena and Shyamal Das. Four personnel in the convoy were critically injured. PLA and MNPF issued a statement late in the evening claiming responsibility for the killings.
The blast was targeted at the CO’s vehicle and then the firing started. It was sudden and ferocious,” a defence source said.
The last such ambush on security forces in the militancy-ravaged region had also taken place in Manipur in 2015, when 18 soldiers were killed in Chandel district.
Col Tripathi,on deputation from the Army’s Kumaon Regiment, was returning along with his family to Churachandpur from a forward post at Behiang on the India-Myanmar border. He had attended a civic programme there on Friday. Behiang is about 120km from the state capital of Imphal. “Strongly condemn the attack on the Assam Rifles convoy in Manipur. I pay homage to those soldiers and family members who have been martyred today. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with the bereaved families in this hour of sadness,” PM Narendra Modi tweeted. Defence minister Rajnath Singh, too, took to Twitter to condemn the “cowardly attack” and term the deaths “extremely painful & condemnable”. “The nation has lost 5 brave soldiers including CO 46 AR and two family members. My condolences to the bereaved families. The perpetrators will be brought to justice soon,” he wrote. Sources said Col Tripathi’s convoy was possibly targeted because he had recently intensified patrolling of the area, making it harder for militants based in neighbouring Myanmar to move to and from the state. According to the Assam Rifles, Col Tripathi had a successful stint in Mizoram before he was transferred to Manipur about four months ago. A defence source said Army Chief Gen M M Naravane had been briefed about the attack and operations launched in the area to trace the attackers. A close watch is being kept on the Myanmar border to prevent them from escaping into that country.
The Assam Rifles, a paramilitary force under the MHA, operates along the porous India-Myanmar border in the hill ranges of Chandel, Ukhrul, and Churachandpur districts under the supervision of the inspector general (south), based in the Imphal headquarters. Manipur goes to the polls early next year.