Two Tamil men from Manipur found dead in Myanmar

The bodies of two Tamil men from a Manipur town were found Tuesday with bullet wounds in neighbouring Myanmar, with a pro-junta militia alleged to be behind the killing.

The two Moreh town residents, P Mohan, 27, and M Iyarnar, 28, had crossed over into Myanmar’s Tamu on Tuesday morning. According to the Moreh Tamil Sangam secretary, they had gone to meet a Tamil friend.

From photographs being circulated on Facebook on both sides of the border, it appears the two had been shot in the head at close range. One had a bullet wound in the forehead; the other had been shot through the side of the head.

The bodies were found in Tamu town’s ward no. 10 (also known as Tamu Saw Bwa, near a school) at around 1 pm on Tuesday. They were identified by Moreh traders.

News of the deaths sparked a spontaneous shutdown in Moreh, 110 km from Manipur capital Imphal, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Moreh town is a melting pot of Meiteis, Kukis, Tamils, Punjabis and others. It has a sizable Tamil population.

Indian officials are in talks with counterparts in Moreh to bring back the bodies.

“As of now, we don’t have any details of why and who killed the two men. But talks are underway at a higher level to bring back the bodies”, said Anand, an officer-in-charge with Moreh police.

Tamil Sangam secretary K B M Maniam alleged that the two had been shot by the pro-junta militia Pyu Shaw Htee. He said the two men, who had set out in the morning for Tamu, had been out of mobile internet range for two hours. They were both auto drivers in Moreh, and had gone across on a two-wheeler.

“We have learnt from people across the border that the two men were stopped and shot by the Pyu Shaw Htee,” Maniam told The Indian Express.

The India–Myanmar border has a Free Movement Regime that allows people living along the border to travel 16 km across either side of the border without visa restrictions. But since the Covid outbreak of 2020, followed by the military coup in Myanmar, the Moreh-Tamu cross-border flow of people and goods has not been the same.

Tamu has seen fierce clashes between the local chapter of the People’s Defence Force — allied to the anti-junta National Unity Government, which has declared itself the government -in-exile of Myanmar — and the military and its militias. One such deadly clash took place in April this year, within a kilometre of the Indian border.

Kaja Moideen, another Moreh Tamil Sangam member, said eyewitnesses to the killing had taken both men to a hospital and got in touch with traders in Moreh. Most village residents in the area had reportedly fled the fighting many weeks ago, and even the hospital had no staff. “They even said to bring a nurse along to clean their faces,” said Moideen.

Mohan got married on June 9 this year. Iyanar, too, was married and was a father to a one-year-old boy.

On Wednesday, community leaders of Moreh town submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister through district officials demanding that the bodies be returned immediately and an ex-gratia be paid to the bereaved families. It has been signed by leaders of all ethnic groups that have been living in Moreh.

The Tamil community in Moreh arrived in two waves — the first time in the 1940s, during the second world war, when tens of thousands of Indians, fearing a Japanese invasion of Burma, trekked into India. The second wave took place during the race riots in Burma during the 1960s, triggering another flight of Indians. Tamils, who had gone to Burma to work in the British colonial administration, were among them. Those who believed they could go back to Burma settled in Moreh.

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