Manipur Assessment - Year 2014
On February 8, 2014, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), an active component group of the Coordination Committee (CorCom) of six Imphal Valley-based militant outfits, killed an Assam Rifles (AR) trooper and injured three others, near the Nambasi village under the Chasad Police Station in Ukhrul District. The AR personnel were on a road opening patrol when the militants detonated a powerful bomb.
Republic Day (January 26, 2013) celebrations in Manipur were also marred by four bomb blasts amidst high security measures, after CorCom called for a boycott. However, no one was injured in the explosions. The first bomb exploded near the deputy commissioner’s office in the eastern part of Imphal, which is also close to the official residence of Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. CorCom, while claiming responsibility for the blasts declared in a Press Statement, that that the series of blast was executed as part of the collective call by several outfits of the “Western Southeast Asia” (Northeast India) region against Republic Day celebrations.
Earlier, on October 7, 2013, CorCom and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) had also jointly called an 18 hour general strike in Manipur and Twipra (Tripura), with effect from October 14 midnight till 6 pm of October 15, to protest against the 'forceful merger agreements' of October 15, 1949, by which Manipur and Tripura was merged into the Indian Union.
Despite a dramatic decline in fatalities in the State in 2013, it is evident that the militants continue to execute attacks at will. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, total fatalities, at 110 [25 civilians, 12 Security Forces-SFs, 73 militants] in 2012, reduced to just half, at 55, in 2013 with 21 civilians, six SFs and 28 militants killed in 10 incidents. 2013 recorded 76 incidents of bomb blast, in which 24 people were killed and 103 were injured; 107 incidents of explosion had been recorded in 2012, though the total fatalities were nine, and 90 persons were injured. Of the 107 blasts in 2012, Corcom was responsible for 33; 28 of the 76 incidents in 2013 were attributed to CorCom. 2013 data also demonstrates a sharp lethality of bomb attacks, despite their reduction in frequency.
Militant fatalities registered a sharp decline in 2013, with 28 killed, as against 73 in 2012. There were 13 incidents of encounters between militants and SFs, resulting in 15 militant fatalities, in 2013, while 2012 registered a total of 33 encounters, in which 48 militants were killed. There were no SFs fatalities in these encounters.
Fratricidal clashes between Naga militants also declined in frequency. There were 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 in 2012. There were just seven such incidents and nine fatalities through 2013. In one major incident, on November 12, 2013, three ZUF militants were killed and one NSCN-IM cadre was injured, in a fierce five-hour gun-battle between NSCN-IM and ZUF cadres near Bhalok village in Tamenglong District. The injured NSCN-IM cadre succumbed to his injuries on January 17, 2014.
According to media reports, the ‘close ties’ between PLA and the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) appear to have ruptured. On May 29, 2013, Shambhu Singh, Joint Secretary (Northeast) in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), observed, "The link between Maoists and Manipur's PLA has been broken long time ago due to logistical problem in Myanmar and strong presence of Security Forces along the India-Myanmar border". He added that the relationship between these two rebel outfits had disintegrated over the preceding year, after the PLA shifted their training camps to Taga in the Northern part of Myanmar. In October 2008, top CPI-Maoist leaders had met PLA leaders in Myanmar and signed a Joint Declaration for unified actions to wage war against India. Noting that the Maoists had not been able to establish themselves in the other States of the Northeast, Singh added, "They (Maoist leaders) have visited Manipur and Nagaland, but they have not been able to establish themselves." Singh also disclosed that Indian rebel groups operating from Myanmar had been facing difficulties infiltrating into India, since most of the routes had been blocked by the SFs. The Khaplang faction of the NSCN (NSCN-K) had even cautioned the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) not to move out of Myanmar, in view of the strong security presence, according to Singh. Singh, conceded, nevertheless, that there were certain areas along the international border that needed improvement: "But the overall troop deployment has improved."
In May 2012, the Myanmar Government had ordered militants operating in India’s Northeast - including Manipuri groups such as PLA and People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) - to shut down their camps and training facilities and leave Myanmar.
There were at least 23 recorded incidents of abductions through 2013, resulting in 40 abductions; as against 30 registered incidents involving 46 abductions in 2012 [as a large proportion of such incidents go unreported, these are likely to be severe underestimates]. In one incident, on August 1, 2013, seven persons, including two engineers from Kolkata, were abducted by Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) militants from Imphal East District. The other five included two senior engineers of the Manipur Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFCD), two drivers of the department and a local contractor. They were all released by the abductors on August 4, 2013. According to the abductees, the abductors told the hostages that they had been abducted because the IFCD always turned down their “requests.” The hostages denied any knowledge of ransom being paid. Engineers of the department also denied a financial exchange. No arrests were made.
Only 14 incidents of extortion were recorded in 2013, as against 35 in 2012 [once again, this is a severely under-reported crime]. In one incident, on November 4, 2013, the National Investigating Agency (NIA) seized INR 11.4 million in cash from a Bangalore businessman. According to investigators, the money belonged to the Manipur-based PREPAK and United People’s Party of Kangleipak (UPPK). During questioning, the agency learnt that PREPAK-UPPK had raised the money through extortion and that its ‘general secretary’ N. Shanti Meitei gave the money for relocation to his childhood friend, who is a real estate developer based in Bangalore. The NIA refused to share the name of the businessman and said that his statement had been recorded before a magistrate.
At least 273 militants surrendered in 2013, as against 303 in 2012. In the most significant incident of the year, on September 9, 2013, 149 cadres belonging to three different underground organisations laid down arms and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) and Suspension of Operations (SoO) pact with the Government. The groups that laid down arms included 44 cadres of the Nongdrenkhomba faction of Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP-Nongdrenkhomba), 50 of the Kuki National Liberation Front (KNLF) and 55 of the Kuki Revolutionary Front (KRF).
368 militants were arrested through 2013, as compared to 609 in 2012. Arrested militants prominently included 50 of the PLA; 46, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL); 34, PREPAK; 30, Progressive faction of PREPAK (PREPAK-Pro); 20, United Nation Liberation Front (UNLF); 19, KCP-Military Council (KCP-MC); 13, KCP; nine, ZUF; and five, NSCN-K.
Worryingly, the year recorded seven incidents of attacks on non-locals, resulting in 12 fatalities and 39 persons injured, as against no such attack through 2012. In the worst attack, on September 13, 2013, at least nine migrant labourers from Assam were killed and another 11 were injured in an explosion inside a working shed located on the slab cover put up over Naga Nullah (drain) at Nagamapal in Imphal West District. While five persons died on the spot, four succumbed to their injuries later. The year also saw an intensive campaign against ‘illegal migrants’ in the State by the Joint Committee on Inner Line Permit System (JCILPS), a umbrella body of several Hill and Valley based civil organizations demanding introduction of the ILP system in the State. During the recent communal unrest in Myanmar, sources claim that an estimated 4,200 Rohingya Muslims affected by the unrest allegedly intruded to India illegally through Bangladesh, and that at least 400 of them entered Manipur.
2013 also saw the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) renewing its demand for the creation of a separate ‘Kuki State’, an area covering around 65 per cent of the whole territory of Manipur, spread over five Hill Districts: Churachandpur, Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul. On October 17, 2013, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), an umbrella body of Kuki militant formations, also reiterated its demand for a separate Kuki State carved out of Manipur's territory. Moreover, on September 13, 2013, a large number of people from the Kuki community gathered at the Brigadier Thomas Ground in the Kangpokpi area of Senapati District, to observe 'Kuki Black Day', commemorating the death of over 900 Kukis in the Naga-Kuki clashes of the early nineties. Haojakhup Lupheng, the Vice-President of the Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM - an apex body of the Kukis), complained that, instead of taking action against the NSCN-IM, the Government has started dialogue with them. He demanded that the Government should deliver justice to the victims first, before reaching any agreement with the NSCN-IM. A SoO between the Government and the two umbrella organizations of Kuki outfits, KNO and the United Peoples Front (UPF) has also been extended for another one year, with effect from August 30, 2013, at a tripartite meeting held at New Delhi.
Meanwhile, the United Naga Council (UNC) held its seventh tripartite talk and first round of political level talks in Senapati District on February 6, 2014, focusing on its primary agenda for alternative arrangements for the Nagas in Manipur, outside the State Government, and pending a final settlement to the ongoing negotiations between the NSCN-IM and the Government of India. Paul Leo, Chairman of the Committee for Alternative Arrangements stated that the upgradation of the talks to the political level was a positive development, as the issue was directly discussed at this level. Meanwhile, KIM noted that the outcome of UNC’s tripartite talk at Senapati, in whatever form, would not be accepted by the Kukis, since the objective behind the talks is purely for the disintegration of Manipur, as well as for the disturbance of peace and tranquility among the major ethnic tribes of the State.
Significantly, on August 15, 2013, Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh had declared that his Government was committed to the protection of the State's territorial integrity. Any attempt to disintegrate the State in the form of 'Alternative Arrangements' or Kuki Statehood was impossible and not permissible, the Chief Minister asserted. Also, on December 8, 2013, the Union Home Ministry's Joint Secretary (North East), Shambhu Singh, had observed that it is still uncertain when the vexed Naga issue could be resolved and that, currently, nothing was certain on what the outcome of the ongoing peace talks with the NSCN-IM would be. Admitting that the dialogue with the Isak-Muivah led faction of the Naga rebel group had not seen any concrete progress, the Joint Secretary disclosed that the outfit had submitted its charter of demands in July 2011, after abandoning the demands for sovereignty, unification of Naga areas and Nagalim (Greater Nagaland). He noted that, the involvement and consent of the Governments of Manipur, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland was necessary, regarding the NSCN-IM's demands, the Centre is yet to give any reply to the Naga rebel group.
The year also saw the merger of two Naga outfits, the Manipur Naga Revolutionary Front (MNRF) and United Naga People’s Council (UNPC), to form a new group, the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF). In a recent incident, the MNPF carried out a bomb attack on December 20, 2013, at the residence of NSCN-IM's ‘town commander’, Newmai Liangmei, at Bulen Colony in Senapati District.
Despite the visible slowdown of the surge of violence in Manipur, the continuous activities of the militants, the competing ethnic demands and rivalries, and the failure of the State to resolve the conflicts, continue to undermine peace in the State.