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CBI Arrests 4 People In Connection With Deaths Of Missing Manipur Students

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) detained two men and two women in connection with the case more than two months after two Manipur students vanished, which has once again placed Imphal on edge.

The CBI arrested Paominlun Haokip, Malsawn Haokip, Lhingneichong Baite, and Tinneikhol on Sunday in what local officials described as a “surgical strike” arrest. Given the ethnic tensions between the Meitei and Kuki groups, the Manipur Police stated in its investigation report from August 2 that it was impossible for the Imphal Police to visit the hills of Churchandpur to conduct an inquiry.

A joint team of Manipur Police and the Indian Army collaborated with CBI to pick up the accused from Henglep. The operation began early on Sunday but the immediate roadblock was the two minor daughters of one of the suspects. Leaving them behind could have alerted locals and led to tension. “There was no one in the family to take care of them so a decision was taken to allow them to accompany their parents in transit to Guwahati,” a CBI official said.

The group of six, including the two minors, was whisked away to Imphal from the hills of Churchandpur just as locals started gathering to protest.

“Even in normal conditions, arrest of any accused leads to some protest from family, etc. This was an unprecedented situation we were dealing with. Multiple agencies — police, army, paramilitary were at work,” a senior officer on the ground told News18.

A top Manipur Police officer added: “A day earlier, we had carried out a similar operation and handed over a suspect to NIA. That experience helped. Central agencies are getting full cooperation from the local police.”

To transport the suspects to the assigned court in the case, Guwahati, CBI representatives were waiting at the Imphal airport.

After the final aircraft from Imphal at 5.40 p.m., it was a race against time to travel the remaining 51 kilometers to Imphal. To coordinate with the DGCA (Director General of Civil Aviation), BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security), and CISF, which defends the Imphal airport, senior personnel picked up the phone.

“There are rules followed by BCAS and DGCA for flight operations. There was some tension about whether the team escorting the suspect would make it on time. Ultimately, no untoward incident happened. All agencies were on board to ensure that the suspects were flown out as per plan,” an official in the know told.

Shortly after the arrests, Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh said on X, previously Twitter, that the primary suspect had been taken into custody and that the four would face the death penalty.

“I’m pleased to share that some of the main culprits responsible for the abduction and murder of Phijam Hemanjit and Hijam Linthoingambi have been arrested from Churachandpur today. As the saying goes, one may abscond after committing the crime, but they cannot escape the long hands of the law. We are committed to ensuring maximum punishment, including capital punishment, for the heinous crime they have committed,” he posted.

However, the back-to-back arrests — first by NIA and then by CBI — have led to a complete shutdown in the hills of Manipur. Tribal body ITLF (Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum) questioned the alacrity with which the arrests were carried out. “The (ITLF) condemns in the strongest terms the selective haste of central investigating agencies, who arrested four Kuki-Zo tribals, including two women, without the knowledge of local authorities and abducted two children from their homes. There were no women police officers and no juvenile police unit as required by law when the secret operation was undertaken,” Ginza Vualzong, spokesperson of ILTF, said.

The CBI authorities, however, denied this assertion and insisted that female personnel were present at the time of the arrest.

The suspects will likely be taken into prison by CBI for additional interrogation, but the main difficulty, according to officials, is in finding the bodies. “Social media images show the two children to be deceased. However, the bodies, or at least some of them, must be found in order to prove it in court. DNA samples have been collected to support the case, according to a probe official.

CBI’s preliminary inquiry indicates that the two teenagers, Phijam Hemanjit, 20, and Luwangbi Linthoingambi Hijam, 17, were last seen together on July 6. Investigators believe the two inhabitants of Imphal wandered into Kuki regions.

“They were taking selfies in the area when volunteers at Jaupi village warned them to move away from Kuki areas. Eyewitness accounts suggest the couple obliged but Hemanjit strayed further to a Kuki bunker to ask for Marijuana. A gypsy carrying armed Kuki militants soon arrived at the spot and took them away to an unknown spot,” the initial probe suggests.

The wife of a well-known Kuki terrorist is purportedly one of the people detained. Officials with the CBI believe multiple people were engaged in kidnapping and restraint of the two children. After questioning, there might be further arrests, an officer told News18.

The main task facing CBI is to find the victims’ lost clothing, mobile phones, and motorcycle. Investigators believe the two were alive for at least two days following the kidnapping. Although there have been allegations of rape and torture, agencies have been evasive.

A special CBI court in Guwahati received the accused on Monday and gave the investigation agency 5-day custody of them so they could examine them. On October 7, the court will see the appearance of every defendant.

In its order, the judge noted that arrest guidelines had been followed while making the arrest and there was a valid reason for arrest.

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