Manipur seeks Delhi help for manhunt

Imphal, Dec. 20: Manipur home minister Gaikhangam has sought help from central forces in hunting down the NSCN (I-M) cadre who molested film actress Momoco as the incident continued to fan tension in the state capital today.

On Tuesday night, a man identified as senior NSCN (I-M) cadre Living Stone molested film actress Momoco in the green room of a concert at Chandel district headquarters. He also fired two rounds at two male artistes when they intervened.

The incident occurred at a time when the Naga rebel outfit and New Delhi were reportedly inching closer towards a peace settlement and there were concerns about what impact that would have over Manipur's territory.

No one was hurt in the firing but the incident triggered a storm of protest.

For the second consecutive day, Manipur's artiste fraternity poured its anger on the streets by making an abortive attempt to storm the state Assembly today. More than 10 women's organisations threatened to launch a mass agitation if the government failed to book the culprit.

After submitting a memorandum to the home minister yesterday, singers, film and theatre artistes and members of citizens' bodies planned to storm the state Assembly.

Members of Film Forum Manipur, All Manipur Matam Ishei Kanglup (singers' body) and Shumang Leela Council (theatre body) gathered at Thangmeiband and marched towards the Assembly today. They were stopped by police at a distance of about 500 metres from the Assembly gate leading to a heated exchange between armed police and the protesters.

"I have directed the police to take help from security forces in tracking down and arresting the cadre. Although the NSCN (I-M) is holding talks with the Centre, a criminal is a criminal. We will arrest him," Gaikhangam, who is also the deputy chief minister, assured the House.

Gaikhangam made this statement after Trinamul Congress leader I. Ibohalbi Singh raised the issue during zero hour. Singh demanded prompt action to pacify public outrage.

Two Congress members ' N. Biren Singh and R.K. Anand Singh ' joined the outcry demanding a House condemnation and calling for an end to violation of ground rules by NSCN (I-M) cadres.

The Speaker turned down the demand for House condemnation maintaining the House was yet to get evidence of the Chandel incident.

Protesters blocked the road leading to the state Assembly and did not allow any vehicle, including those carrying MLAs to pass the road for nearly one hour. Later, the protesters burnt an effigy of Living Stone.

"We will wait for the response of the government. If justice is delayed we will intensify our agitation," said L. Surjakanta, president of Film Forum Manipur.

An official source said security measures were tightened to prevent an outbreak of violent protests.

The Shumang Leela Council suspended the ongoing Shumang Leela festival as a mark of protest today and the Film Forum Manipur also suspended screening of films in Manipur's halls. Singers said they would not participate in any concert.