The bodies of two Tamil men from a Manipur town were found with gunshot wounds in neighboring Myanmar on Tuesday, with a pro-junta militia believed to be behind the killing.
The two residents of Moreh town, P Mohan, 27, and M Iyarnar, 28, had crossed the Tamu from Myanmar on Tuesday morning. According to Moreh’s secretary Tamil Sangam, they had gone to meet a Tamil friend.
From photographs posted on Facebook from both sides of the border, it appears the two men were shot in the head at close range. One had a gunshot wound to the forehead; the other had been shot in the side of the head.
The bodies were found in Ward no. 10 (also known as Tamu Saw Bwa, near a school) around 1pm on Tuesday. They were identified by traders in Moreh.
News of the deaths triggered a spontaneous shutdown in Moreh, 110 km from Imphal, the capital of Manipur, on Tuesday and Wednesday. Moreh town is a melting pot of Meiteis, Kukis, Tamils, Punjabis and others. It has a large Tamil population.
Indian officials are in talks with their counterparts in Moreh to bring the bodies back.
“At this time, we have no details as to why and who killed the two men. But talks are underway at a higher level to bring the bodies back,” said Anand, an officer in charge of Moreh Police.
Tamil Sangam secretary KBM Maniam claimed the two men were shot dead by the pro-junta militia Pyu Shaw Htee. He said the two men, who had left in the morning for Tamu, had been out of mobile internet range for two hours. They were both motorists in Moreh and had crossed on two-wheelers.
“We learned from people across the border that the two men were arrested and shot dead 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 on either side of the border without visa restrictions. But since the 2020 Covid epidemic, 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 violent clashes between the local People’s Defense Forces – allied with the anti-junta National Unity Government, which has declared itself Myanmar’s government-in-exile – and the army and its militias. One such deadly clash took place in April this year, less than a kilometer from the Indian border.
Kaja Moideen, another member of Moreh Tamil Sangam, said eyewitnesses to the murder took the two men to hospital and made contact with traders in Moreh. Most of the local village residents are said to have fled the fighting several weeks ago, and even the hospital was unstaffed. “They even said to bring in a nurse to clean their face,” Moideen said.
Mohan got married on June 9 this year. Iyanar, too, was married with a one-year-old boy.
On Wednesday, community leaders in the town of Moreh submitted a memorandum to the chief minister through district officials demanding that the bodies be returned immediately and an ex-gratia be paid to bereaved families. It was signed by leaders of all ethnic groups who have lived in Moreh.
Moreh’s Tamil community arrived in two waves – first in the 1940s, during World War II, when tens of thousands of Indians, fearing a Japanese invasion of Burma, moved to India. The second wave took place during the race riots in Burma in the 1960s, triggering a new flight of Indians. The Tamils, who had gone to Burma to work in the British colonial administration, were among them. Those who believed they could return to Burma settled in Moreh.