By Ratnadip ChoudhuryParaolon (Manipur), Jun 17 : Speeding along the Asian Highway 1 (AH1) from Manipur capital Imphal en route to the border town of Moreh, there is a sense of peace. It kindles a hope that New Delhi’s ambitious plan to connect North-East India to Southeast Asia through Manipur is really taking flight.
However, a right turn from Chamol towards Tengnoupal, and embarking on the Somtal Road — which leads to Somtal, the last Indian village — reality strikes. It is on this serpentine and bumpy road that militants ambushed the Indian Army convoy on June 4 leaving 18 troopers dead.
Since then, this road has been less travelled by civilians. The only vehicles plying are those of the Indian Army and other security forces.
The first Army check post is at Tengnoupal, and as one goes along the hilly road, movement becomes more challenging.
Twenty-two km from Tengnoupal is Larong village, where the Assam Rifles has a check post.
No one, barring Army and security force vehicles, can pass through this check post without taking permission.
“From here, the area becomes dense, sparsely populated and all vehicular movement needs to be checked,” said a Major in the Indian Army.
Another 20-km drive from Larong would take you to Paraolon, the village which has been deserted since the attack. Paraolon is just 2 km from the ambush spot.
At least 10 villagers were witness to the gun-battle that lasted nearly two hours.
Now the site is almost nondescript. There is no Army presence and when Deccan Herald reached the sharp bend where the ambush took place, the charred Indian Army truck was finally craned out.
The broken glass pieces and burnt fuel marks and rocket-propelled grenade shells still hold testimony to how the Army was caught unawares.
“We have heard gunshots, but it’s been years since the area witnessed any bloodshed. There was a time when no one dared to take the Somtal road; the militants had an open run there. For years, we have not received any government assistance,” said Hinjam, a 65-year-old farmer from Dorchang village, 4 km ahead of Paralaon.
Asked about the Look East policy, Hinjam said: “After the ambush, none of the males are being allowed by the Army into the jungles for cultivation or hunting. Only women are allowed to venture out. The government is only interested about the border town of Moreh, not other remote areas. If the government is not present here, then the militants will arrive — that has been the order of the day.”
The United National Liberation Front had, a decade ago, established the “liberated zone” from Moltuh to Somtal, and were frequenting that stretch of Indo-Myanmar border.
The Indian Army had reclaimed the area in 2007 when Operation Somtal was launched.
As we proceeded from the ambush site towards Somtal, some 30 km from Paraolon, the vehicle was stopped and barred from going forward at another Indian Army post.
“The road ahead has dangers. We cannot allow further movement,” said a jawan.