Manipur: Violent Surge
On December 28, 2012, United National Liberation Front (UNLF) militants killed two Tangkhul tribal hunters at Kongkan village under the Chassad Police Station of Ukhrul District. A day later, owning responsibility for the killing, the UNLF sought forgiveness from the tribe, claiming that it was a case of 'mistaken identity', as its armed cadres mistook the hunters for Assam Rifles (AR) troopers.
Further, on November 23, 2012, on the eve of its 38th foundation day, UNLF militants had simultaneously triggered two improvised explosive devices (IEDs), planted at a distance of about 20 feet by the roadside, injuring two Army personnel and a sniffer dog at Konthoujam along the Imphal-Jiribam highway in Imphal West District. UNLF again claimed responsibility for the ambush and reiterated its demand of holding a 'plebiscite' to resolve the armed conflict in Manipur. Refusing to hold talks with the Government, it declared that the conflict could only be resolved with restoration of Manipur's 'sovereignty'.
Earlier, on September 28, 2012, at least two AR personnel and a civilian were killed, while another five AR personnel and two civilians sustained injuries, in serial bomb blasts triggered by UNLF cadres at Kwatha village in Chandel District near the Indo-Myanmar border. While claiming responsibility for the ambush, the UNLF disclosed that the operation was carried out by its 'mobile unit' operating in Chandel District.
After a dramatic decline in insurgent violence over the preceding two years, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, total fatalities, at 110 in 2012, increased by 69.23 per cent over the 65 recorded in 2011. While civilian fatalities remained at the same number, fatalities among the Security Forces (SFs) increased by two, from 10 in 2011 to 12 in 2012. There was a two-and-a-half fold increase in militant fatalities, from 30 in 2011 to 73 in 2012.
63 incidents of killing were recorded in 2012, as compared to 33 in 2011. The number of major incidents (each involving three or more killings) in 2012 stood at eight, as against three in 2011. Similarly, 107 incidents of explosion were recorded in 2012, resulting in nine killed and 90 injured, as compared to just 39 bomb blasts in 2011, with eight fatalities and 52 injured.
46 abductions were recorded in 30 registered incidents, as compared to 32 abductions in 14 reported incidents in 2011 [a large proportion of abductions go unreported]. In one such incident, suspected Kuki National Army (KNA) militants abducted four employees of the State Electricity Department, from Tengnoupal in Chandel District, on December 18, 2012. The militants allegedly made a demand of INR 500,000, though no further reports are available in the open source.
Extortion continues to remain a major concern in the State, with SATP recording at least 35 incidents in 2012. 40 incidents of extortion were recorded during the preceding year. According to a January 18, 2012, report, a probe carried out by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) discovered that the UNLF alone earned around INR 1.5 billion between 2007 and 2010 through extortion.
Incidents of violence were reported from all the nine Districts of Manipur, both in 2011 and 2012.
Meanwhile, the CorCom, which comprises of seven Valley-based militant groups, including the UNLF, remained the most violent formation in the State. Of 12 SFs fatalities in 2012, nine were attributed to CorCom. Further, of 107 blasts in 2012, the formation was responsible for 33. It had escalated violence particularly during the Assembly Elections of January 2012. In once such incident, on January 26, 2012, two days before elections and on the occasion of India's Republic Day, at least four SF personnel and three militants were killed in two separate clashes in Manipur, at Aishi village in Ukhrul District and at Taretlok, bordering Thoubal and Ukhrul District.
Manipur also saw an escalation of violence by Naga groupings engaged in factional clashes in the Tamenglong District. The year recorded at least 10 clashes between the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) - at times a combined force of ZUF and Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K)] - and the NSCN-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), which resulted in 25 fatalities, as compared to seven fatalities in four such reported incidents in 2011. The worst fratricidal clash between ZUF and NSCN-IM cadres erupted in the evening of September 25, 2012, and continued late into the night of September 26, leaving six persons dead. The incident occurred inside a forest near Wairangba village in the interior Tamenglong District.
The PLA's close links with the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) further accentuated apprehensions. According to a December 18, 2012, report, a supplementary charge sheet filed by the NIA in the CPI-Maoist-PLA nexus case revealed that the CPI-Maoist had been procuring Chinese arms and communication equipment from PLA via Myanmar, and routing it to Kolkata (West Bengal) through Guwahati (Assam) between 2006 and 2011. The charge-sheet has been filed against Maoist leaders, Pallab Borborah alias Profull ('chief coordinator' for 'expanding' Maoist activities and 'forging ties' with the Northeastern insurgent group); Indranil Chanda alias Raj (described by NIA as the Maoists' chief in Assam); and PLA's 'external affairs chief' Asem Ibotombi Singh alias Angou, who were arrested in 2012 from Assam, Kolkata and Odisha, respectively. The accused are alleged to have played a significant role in the training of Maoists by PLA in Jharkhand's Saranda Forest, apart from facilitating procurement of arms and communication equipment.
Security agencies believe that the CPI-Maoist is making rapid inroads into the North-East, immediately to gain access to the arms market in the neighbouring Yunan Province of China, as well as in Myanmar and the Southeast Asian countries.
Amidst rising fratricidal violence, the SFs also intensified their operations. The year registered a total of 33 encounters between SFs and militants, in which 48 militants were killed (the remaining 25 militant fatalities were the result of factional clashes) as compared to just 10 encounters in 2011, in which 23 militants were eliminated (another seven were killed in factional clashes). In a major encounter, on June 30, 2012, at least four cadres belonging to the Lungam group of KNA, including its 'commander-in-chief' Lunkhongam, were killed at Phaikok village, located close to Myanmar border, in Ukhrul District.
The State recorded 609 arrests of insurgent cadres in 2012, as compared to 546 in 2011. The arrested militants in 2012 prominently belonged to different factions of the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP, 117), People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK, 87), People's Liberation Army (PLA 62), UNLF (43), the Progressive faction of PREPAK (PREPAK-Pro, 35), NSCN-IM (28), United Peoples' Party of Kangleipak (UPPK, 19), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL, 11) and NSCN-K (4). In one significant arrest outside the State, on November 1, 2012, Ningthoujam Romen Singh alias Rocky (27), the 'Commander-in-Chief', who is also the 'Finance Secretary', of the Military Council faction of KCP (KCP-MC) was arrested from Sarai Kale Khan in New Delhi, for his alleged involvement in unlawful activities and several cases of murder, abduction and extortion.
The intensified pressure of SFs resulted in the surrender of at least 303 militants in 2012, as against 271 in 2011. In the most significant surrender of the year, 114 militants belonging to different outfits surrendered, along with arms, before Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh, at Mantripukhri in Imphal East District, on September 26, 2012. The 114 cadres who lay down their arms in the ceremony included 16 from the Kazi Umar faction of the People's United Liberation Front (PULF); 18 from UNLF; 17 each from KYKL and PREPAK; 12 from the Kuki National Liberation Front (KNLF); nine from various factions of KCP; 13 from PLA; six from UPPK; and three from the United Naga People's Council (UNPC). Among those who surrendered, five were women.
On the political front, the State remained a major player in negotiations for a 'solution' to the 'Naga issue'. On October 10, 2012, Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, hinting that a 'solution' to the 'Naga issue' was likely before March 2013, when Assembly polls in Nagaland are due to be held, disclosed, "I have been talking to the Chief Ministers of both Arunachal and Manipur, and we are trying to reach a consensus on this." The Kukis in Manipur opposed the talks, threatening to renew their demand for statehood, even as the Meiteis vehemently rejected the talks, claiming that settlement proposals would disturb the 'unity of Manipur or its territorial integrity'. On October 19, 2012, Thangkhosei Haokip, the newly re-elected President of Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM), the apex traditional institution of the Kukis in the State, asserted, "Justice has to be delivered to the Kukis before any settlement is arrived at between the NSCN-IM and the GoI (Government of India)". He then asserted that any further denial of justice to the Kukis was bound to compel the apex Kuki body to review its fundamental principles of non-communal, peaceful co-existence and justice for all.
Further, on November 2, 2012, the Kuki National Organization (KNO), an umbrella organization of 16 Kuki militant groups, threatened to resume armed struggle and to 'secede from Manipur' if the Centre did not begin talks with them. Meanwhile, the Suspension of Operations (SoO) pact signed between the two umbrella bodies of KNO and UPF, the Central Government and the State Government, in August 2005, which was extended by three months on August 31, 2012, expired on November 22, 2012. According to a January 2, 2013, report, Joint Secretary (North-East) Shambhu Singh was to finalize the modalities with the two Kuki militant formations to initiate formal peace talks at the earliest.
On the other hand, the United Committee Manipur (UCM), the apex body of the Meiteis, on October 18, 2012, categorically stated that it would demand 'pre-merger status' of Manipur if the ongoing political dialogue between NSCN-IM and GoI disturbed the unity or territorial integrity of Manipur in any way. UCM argues that Manipur was 'forcibly merged' with India on 15 October, 1949.
On October 26, 2012, the United Naga Council (UNC), the main apex body of the Nagas, asserted that a peaceful parting of the Nagas in Manipur and the Meiteis, as good neighbours, was the only way to avert a catastrophic situation that would arise out of the prolonged 'forced union of the two'.
Conspicuously, the growing 'unity' of valley based militant groupings, turf war-related rivalries among Naga militant groupings, and ethnic tensions between the three principle ethnic groups - Kuki, Naga and Meitei - continued to undermine peace efforts in the State, notwithstanding the earlier tainted recovery. Unsurprisingly, on December 3, 2012, the State Government extended the Disturbed Areas Act in Manipur for another year, till November 30, 2013. It remains to be seen whether New Delhi and the State Government are able to counter the insurgents effectively, and extract the State from the endless violence that has now continuously plagued it for 48 years.
(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)