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Fresh Deadly Clashes Reported in Northeast India

FILE - A man on a scooter rides past a damaged water tanker that was set afire during a protest by tribal groups in Churachandpur, in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur, May 4, 2023.

Fresh deadly clashes were reported Sunday in the remote northeastern Indian state of Manipur although the exact number of fatalities was not immediately clear.

Manipur has been on edge after an explosion of inter-ethnic violence this month killed at least 70 people and left tens of thousands displaced.

The state's chief minister N. Biren Singh told local media, in comments confirmed by a government official to AFP, that 40 suspected militants had died along with two police in the past two days.

"The terrorists have been using M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles and sniper guns against civilians. They came to many villages to burn down homes," local media quoted Singh as saying.

"We have started taking very strong action against them with the help of the army and other security forces. We have got reports some 40 terrorists have been shot dead," Singh was quoted as saying.

However, while a military source confirmed an uptick of unrest, he said four people had been killed in the past 24 hours.

"At least three armed miscreants — who were trying to set fire to empty houses and fired at the security forces when they tried to stop them — died in retaliatory firing," the source told AFP, declining to be named.

"One more armed miscreant was killed in Moreh and three others, including two security personnel, were injured," the source said.

The far-flung states of northeast India — sandwiched between Bangladesh, China and Myanmar — have long been a tinderbox of tensions between different ethnic groups.

The violence in Manipur earlier in May was between the majority Meitei, who are mostly Hindus and live in and around the state capital Imphal, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe in the surrounding hills.

Most victims are believed to be from the Kuki community, with some of their villages and churches destroyed by Meitei mobs. But the Meitei were also targeted by the Kukis in some places.

The initial spark was Kuki anger at the prospect of the Meitei being given guaranteed quotas of government jobs and other perks in a form of affirmative action.

This also stoked long-held fears among the Kuki that the Meitei might be allowed to acquire land in areas currently reserved for them and other tribal groups.

Thousands of troops were deployed to restore order, while around 30,000 people fled their homes for the safety of ad-hoc army-run camps for the displaced. Mobile internet has been cut for weeks.