SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Highways of Extortion
The assassination attempt on Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh on May 17, 2006, while his cavalcade was traveling along National Highway (NH) 39, to Langmeidong in Thoubal District, came as a sharp reminder of the utter insecurity of Manipurs crucial road links the States lifelines. While a high-profile ambush on the Chief Minister does make news even now in a State wracked by incessant violence, much of the daily and routine militant activities and innumerable acts of extortion, intimidation and murder pass largely unnoticed under the scanner of public and media attention, particular outside the State.
The blockade of highways that connect the State to the outside world has been the most common and effective method for militants and agitators to bring pressure on the State Government in landlocked Manipur. Extortion on the highways also yields a significant, if not preponderant, part of militant revenues in the State. These two factors, in combination, have made life for the common citizen increasingly unbearable.
The tiny (22,366 square kilometers) frontier-State of Manipur is located in the easternmost part of Indias northeastern region. The States distinct topography leaves its most populous parts, the Imphal Valley (1843 sq km), fully enveloped by the Naga Hills and the Lushai Hills. The Valley accounts for 58.85 per cent of the States total population of 2.39 million (2001 Census).
Manipur is principally connected by road to the rest of the country and to Myanmar by three National Highways: NH-39, NH-53 and NH-150, totaling 965 kilometres of road through the State. With no rail links, the only other connection is two flights a day, which serve the elite of the State. Of the highways, the Mao-Imphal section (109 km) of NH-39 is the States main lifeline, its major link route to the outside world. Over 300 trucks ply along this route daily to bring petrol, diesel, cooking gas and other essential items, including food grains, from other parts of the country. In addition, large numbers of passenger buses and private vehicles ply along NH-39. Further, the Imphal-Moreh section (110 km) of NH-39 is also widely used by the trading community to shop at key town of Moreh on the Indo-Myanmar border. Besides, NH-53 connects Imphal to Silchar in Assam (223 km) and NH-150 connects Imphal to Kohima in Nagaland and Aizawl in Mizoram (523 km).
As things stand, extended sections on all these highways operate on the whims of various militant groups. The Mao-Imphal section of NH-39, which passes through the Naga dominated areas of the Senapati District is virtually under the control of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), an outfit that is currently engaged in peace talks with the Union Government, but which operates a widespread and systematic extortion network across both Nagaland and in all Naga-dominated areas in neighbouring States. The Imphal-Moreh section of the NH-39 is similarly under the control of various Kuki militant outfits as well as the NSCN-IM. The poorly manned NH-53 has also been parceled out between various militant groups like the NSCN-IM, NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K) and United National Liberation Front (UNLF). Likewise, NH-150 is under the sway of various Kuki and Naga militant groups.
With various militant outfits asserting dominance over extended segments of these highways, the State and its people are perpetually at their mercy. Extortion along these highways is rampant and several militant groups, prominently including the NSCN-IM, impose different rates of illegal tax on commercial vehicles plying on these highways, depending on the value of consignments, at several points marking the transition from one militant groups area of dominance to the next.
On the Dimapur-Mao-Imphal section of NH-39, for instance, the NSCN-IM, according to media reports, charges an oil tanker about INR 3,000 per trip, followed by trucks carrying cooking gas cylinders at about INR 2,000, and those carrying cement, INR 1,000. Besides this, the NSCN-IM charges a truck about INR 7,000 and a tourist bus about INR 12,000 annually as a permit fee to operate in the State. On July 26, 2002, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh accused NSCN-IM of collecting vehicle tax amounting to INR two hundred to three hundred million annually from vehicles carrying essential items into Manipur through the Dimapur-Mao-Imphal section of NH-39 and the Imphal-Jiribam-Silchar section of NH-53. The NSCN-IM is said to have opened tax collection centres at Mao in Senapati District and Dimapur in Nagaland for the Dimapur-Mao-Imphal section of NH-39; Imphal and Pallel in the Chandel District for the Imphal-Moreh section of NH-39; and None and Nungba in the Tamenglong District for NH-53.
While speaking in the State Legislative Assembly in Imphal on August 4, 2003, Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Ibomcha Singh, stated that each and every passenger bus plying along the Imphal-Moreh section of NH-39 annually paid a sum of INR 30,000 to various militant groups such as the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) and NSCN-IM. He also stated that smaller commercial vehicles paid INR 20,000 annually.
Militant groups have threatened to block the highways on several occasions when the owners of commercial vehicles refuse to pay the revolutionary taxes demanded. On February 1, 2006, for instance, services of passenger and transport vehicles running along the Imphal-Moreh section of NH-39 were cancelled following the threat of an unidentified militant group to increase the extortion amount collected from vehicle owners.
Insecurity on the highways is compounded by repeated militant attacks on Security Force (SF) and commercial vehicles. As these highways pass along rough hilly terrain, the over-extended SFs can do little to pre-empt attacks. Looting and harassment of commercial and personal vehicles by armed miscreants is also a common occurrence and over 200 cases of looting and dacoity were reported on NH-39 in 2003 and 2004. Some of the more recent and prominent incidents of this nature include:
May 13, 2006: Heavily armed men looted two Manipur-bound passenger buses on the NH-39 at Jakhama in Nagaland.
February 15, 2006: Five security force (SF) personnel were wounded in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion triggered by suspected UNLF cadre along NH-39 at Sangakpham in Imphal East District.
September 9, 2005: Unidentified gunmen looted three vehicles along NH-39 at Leingangpokpi area in the Chandel District.
August 24, 2005: Unidentified gunmen looted six passenger vehicles plying along the Imphal-Moreh section of NH-39 in the Leingangpokpi area in Chandel District.
July 20, 2005: Suspected NSCN-IM militants blew up a bridge along NH-53, located between Khongsang and Noney in Tamenglong District.
There have also been a number of attacks on tankers carrying liquefied petroleum gas and diesel/ petrol over the years.
Militancy has also disrupted road construction and maintenance work on these highways, as militants have hijacked vehicles and abducted and harassed construction workers. Work along NH-150 had to be repeatedly stalled because of the State Governments inability to provide adequate security coverage to Border Roads Organisation (BRO) workers. In one incident, four personnel of the Border Roads Task Force (BRTF) were abducted by unidentified militants from a place near Jiribam in the Imphal East District on October 31, 2004. The abductors reportedly demanded INR Five million for their release. They were subsequently released on November 10, 2004. Following that incident, the BRTF suspended road construction and maintenance work from Jiribam to Barak on the NH-53 in 2004. Work only resumed in June 2005 when better security cover was provided.
Frequent blockades by protestors on the highways are another crucial challenge, and these has severely affected the well being of the entire State and led to acute scarcities of essential commodities, including life-saving medicines, on several occasions. Indeed, the blockade of highways has become the most common and effective method of protest adopted by agitating groups in the State to bring pressure on the Government. It is useful, in this context, to recall the 52-day long economic blockade imposed by the All Naga Students Association of Manipur (ANSAM) from June 19 to August 11, 2005, in protest against the State Governments decision to declare June 18 as State Integrity Day in honour of 18 persons killed while protesting against the extension of ceasefire between the Government of India and the NSCN-IM in Manipur. Surprisingly, the 52-day blockade was followed by another three-day highway blockade from August 10-12, 2005, imposed by the Sadar Hills District Demand Committee demanding a new district in the Sadar Hills of the State. Subsequently, the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur (ATSUM) imposed an indefinite highway blockade from midnight, May 15, 2006, (which lasted till May 21)) demanding better education facilities in the Hill Districts of Manipur.
Ironically, despite these repeated and disturbing incidents and persistent extortion on the highways, the State Government has failed to initiate effective action to bring the situation under control. Providing fail-safe security along these highways may be nigh impossible, but a great deal can certainly be done to diminish the threat and provide freedom of movement along the most crucial routes in the State.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
May 15 - 21, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Seven persons killed in terrorist attack on Youth Congress rally in Srinagar: Two terrorists in police uniform attacked a rally of the Youth Congress at Sher-e-Kashmir Park in the capital Srinagar on May 21, 2006, killing three political activists and two police personnel, minutes before the scheduled arrival of Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. Inspector General of Police (Kashmir), K. Rajendra Kumar, was among 25 persons injured in the attack which was claimed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Al-Mansoorian. The two terrorists were subsequently killed in an encounter. The attack came three days before the Prime Minister's scheduled arrival in Srinagar for his second roundtable conference of political parties on the Kashmir issue. Daily Excelsior, May 22, 2006.
Manipur Chief Minister escapes assassination attempt in Thoubal District: Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh escaped an assassination attempt on the morning of May 17, 2006, when armed militants ambushed his convoy. One police commando was injured in the attack, while one unidentified militant was killed. One AK-47 rifle was also recovered from the slain militant. The Chief Minister was traveling along with some of his senior Ministers and Congress Party president of the Manipur unit, Gaikhangam, towards Langmeidong in Thoubal district to organize a meeting, when militants opened fire. All the ministers escaped unhurt. Times of India, May 17, 2006.
Maoist-triggered landmine blast kills 12 civilians in Maharashtra: On May 16, 2006, in a landmine explosion triggered by the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres, 12 members of a marriage group were killed. The blast took place between Halebada and Patha villages in the Gadchiroli district, around 10 kilometers from the Chhattisgarh border. The civilians were returning to the Pakhanjore camp for Bangladeshi settlers in the Kanker District of Chhattisgarh. Superintendent of Police, Pradeep Gupta disclosed that "the impact of the explosion was so severe that the jeep went 20 feet in the air and landed in pieces, killing all 12 persons (eight men and four women) on board". Another senior official in the anti-Naxalite cell of the Maharashtra Police added, "it appears that they (Maoists) misjudged the vehicles to be a police convoy (sic), which usually moves in the early hours for operations." Daily News & Analysis, May 16, 2006.
Maoist-affected States witnessed more terrorist acts than Jammu & Kashmir: In a reply to a written question in Parliament, Minister of State for Home, Sriprakash Jaiswal stated that Maoist-affected States witnessed more incidents of terrorist violence than Jammu and Kashmir in the first four months of 2006. There have been as many as 550 incidents of violence in Maoist-affected States as compared to Jammu and Kashmir, where 466 terrorist acts occurred till April 30, 2006. As many as 281 persons, both civilians and security force personnel, have died in the Maoist-related incidents while in Jammu and Kashmir, 141 persons died in terrorist acts. Zee News, May 17, 2006.
Home Minister to head three-member Government delegation for talks with Maoists: Home Minister Krishna Sitaula said on May 20, 2006, that he will head a three-member Government delegation for peace talks with the Maoists. Sitaula said a decision hasn't yet been made on the two other delegation members. "The other members in the team will be announced within the next two days. Our team will initiate dialogue with the Maoists," he said, adding that the Government has also decided to form a committee that would guide the team during the peace talks. Situala also said the committee would have senior leaders from the alliance of seven ruling political parties. Nepal News, May 21, 2006.
House of Representatives deprives King of privileges and command of the Army: On May 17, 2006, the House of Representatives (HoR) passed a proposal, tabled by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, depriving the King of privileges enjoyed by him and declaring the reinstated House as "supreme." According to the proposal, the provision of Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Nepalese Army being held by the King has been scrapped, thereby depriving the King of his control over the Army. The proposal also dissolved the Raj Parishad Standing Committee, and stated that full executive power would lie with Parliament. The monarch will not have any authority to enact any law concerning royal succession, which will be done by the Parliament. The declaration scrapped the provision that the King's acts could not be challenged before the Parliament and the Court. Another major change made by the proclamation is in the name of the Royal Nepalese Army, which is now to be called the 'Nepali Army', and replacing "His Majesty's Government" with "Government of Nepal". The King will no longer convene a session of Parliament as stipulated in the Constitution. The Cabinet will decide about the appointment of the Army Chief, while mobilisation of the Army will be done as per the decision of the Council of Ministers. However, that will have to be approved by the stipulated Parliamentary Committee. The proclamation has also made the income and assets of the King taxable.
proclamation declared Nepal a secular state and added that the
Government would make provisions for resolving the citizenship
News, May 18, 2006.
18 terrorists killed in North Waziristan: Security forces killed at least 18 terrorists and blew up two vehicles near Miranshah in North Waziristan on May 16, 2006. The action was taken after a soldier had been killed in an attack on a picket. The gun-battle occurred near the Nariwala area on Razmak-Miranshah Road when terrorists fired on the security picket of Mohmand Rifles, killing one soldier and wounding three. Sources quoting local residents said heavy gunfire erupted after security forces cordoned off the area, and continued for more than four hours. They said that 18 terrorists were killed in the encounter and troops seized nine bodies, weapons and a set of telephones. Dawn, May 18, 2006.
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