Shillong: Residents of a remote state in northeastern India are running out of essential supplies as an economic blockade imposed by tribal rebels nears its 60th day, officials say.
Several Naga tribal groups have blocked the main highway into Manipur state since April 12 to protest against a government decision preventing their separatist leader, Thuingaleng Muivah, from visiting his birthplace.
Manipur, which has long been affected by insurgent violence, is home to dozens of tribal groups and small guerrilla armies that resist rule from New Delhi and often compete against each other.
“This blockade is a heinous crime against humanity,” said Mohain Yanglem, chief of Manipur’s Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, as supplies dwindled at his 1,075-bed government-owned hospital in the state capital Imphal.
“We only have 15 days of medical and oxygen stocks and just enough rice to feed our 800 patients for another 10 days,” Yanglem told AFP by telephone. “If we are not supplied soon then we must suspend all routine surgeries.”
Yanglem said another 300-bed hospital was on the brink of closure due to the blockade.
Government officials said they had so far got only two food convoys into Manipur, which borders Myanmar, via a back road from Shillong city.
Talks between Muivah’s aides and the federal government were broken off last month after six Naga protesters died and 70 others were injured in clashes with the police.
Muivah, 75, is a charismatic leader who inspires deep popular loyalty to his separatist campaign, and the authorities in Manipur argue that civil unrest would worsen in the tiny state if he were allowed to return.
Muivah’s National Socialist Council of Nagaland group has been campaigning for decades for a Naga homeland to be carved out from three of India’s seven northeastern states, including Manipur.
The group secured a ceasefire deal with New Delhi in 1997 and has since held more than 60 rounds of talks to try and end one of India’s longest running insurgencies.
Manipur government spokesman N. Viren Singh said the state had sent a plea for help to New Delhi as food prices have sky rocketed and gasoline is being sold on the black market at four times the normal price.
“People are getting restive and there is every reason to be so -- when people get hungry they naturally get angry,” Singh said.
Singh said his administration was reluctant to use force to bring relief to 2.5 million residents of Manipur, a region of forested hills and rare wildlife and an economy based on agriculture and handloom weaving.
Tourism is negligible due to a lack of facilities, security concerns and problems obtaining special travel permits.
“There is problem in getting cooking gas bottles and now we are using charcoal to cook for our patients,” said Moni Tayemjam, who runs a cafeteria in Imphal’s Shijia Hospital.
Konika Khuraijam is one of many harried housewives.
“Everything is now so expensive. How long can I afford to buy cooking gas for Rs1,500 ($33) a cylinder when the price before the blockade was around Rs400?” Khuraijam asked.