SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
The two-day talks held between the Government of Sri Lanka and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at Geneva in Switzerland on October 28-29, 2006, ended without any conclusive result and without an agreement on future engagement. The outcome – or lack thereof – reaffirmed the fact that the dialogue remains essentially tactical on both sides, and seeks principally to establish a facade to appease the international community.
The intent and orientation were already well in evidence long before the meetings at Geneva. The Government defence spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella, had bluntly declared, on October 24, “We will be going for talks, not peace talks." On the other side and on the same day, the political head of the LTTE, S.P. Tamilselvan, told media that the LTTE’s participation in the talks was in respect of the call by the international community. The talks were facilitated by Norway at the behest of co-chairs of Donor countries, which, at their meeting on September 12, 2006, in Brussels, urged both parties to engage in talks to end the ‘undeclared war’. Geneva II, however, was an even more obvious failure than Geneva I (February 22-23, 2006), where the two parties at least agreed to meet later, on April 19-20, though that meeting never materialized.
According to preliminary reports, the discussions collapsed on the issue of the closure of the A9 Highway, which links Jaffna peninsula to the rest of the country. The LTTE claimed that the ‘peace process’ was contingent on re-opening of the highway, while the Government said it was compelled to close the highway for security reasons and that the LTTE was raking up the issue as it was not serious about discussing "core political issues." The Government alleged that the LTTE were keen on re-opening the highway with an eye on the revenue it generated.
In reality, the talks never progressed in real terms with both sides sticking to their own intransigent positions. While the Government demanded that ‘core issues’ – democracy, multi-party system, pluralism, human rights, child recruitment, development of the North and East and devolution – be discussed within a time-bound framework, the LTTE emphasized that they would engage on ‘contentious political issues’ only after ‘immediate humanitarian needs’ – the opening of the A9 Highway being the most important – and concerns regarding the protecting human rights had been first addressed.
Recent events have done much to bolster the Government’s perception of its strength, both militarily and politically. Colombo has secured significant advantages on the ground after its successes in Mavilaru, Muttur, Muhamalai, Sampur and Jaffna, even as it has secured the long elusive ‘Southern Consensus’ – for the first time in the country both the ruling party and Opposition have come together with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United National Party (UNP) on October 23. The MoU is the result of President Mahinda Rajapakse’s attempt to have a united South. After the signing of the MoU the President stated, "We needed a Southern consensus. That was what the LTTE and the international community were asking for. We have now achieved it." Under the circumstances, the Government was disinclined to allow significant movement to a renewed cease-fire agreement which would provide the LTTE a respite and the opportunity to regroup. On the other hand, the LTTE had also secured a number of dramatic ‘successes’, particularly in its execution of a number of effective suicide attacks in the South, as well as by inflicting large casualties on the Sri Lankan Army forces in some of the major conventional confrontations in the North. At the present juncture, consequently, neither the Government nor the LTTE was ready for a ‘decisive war’ or for ‘decisive talks’.
Unsurprisingly, the spiral of violence continues. 647 persons were killed in October 2006 alone, adding to 533 killed in September. 3,560 people have already been sacrificed to the violence this year (till October 28). The LTTE’s losses in conventional warfare have been significant since hostilities broke out in July 2006, with at least 1,746 cadres killed, an estimated 15 per cent of its total cadre strength. The LTTE has lost a total of 2,041 cadres through 2006 (till October 28). Progressively cornered in the North, it sought to startle the Government ahead of Geneva II by engineering a series of suicide attacks, the worst of which was the October 16 attack that killed at least 102 Navy personnel at Habrana in the Matale District. It has also inflicted severe blows on Government forces in the fighting in the North. The worst single engagement for the SLA was on August 11, when the Government lost 129 of its troopers in fighting at Jaffna. A total of 505 Security Forces (SF) personnel have been killed since July 2006, and 701 through the year.
The issue of reopening of A9 highway, which was closed by the Government in August 2006, is critical for the LTTE. By closing the highway, the Government has stifled the LTTE economy, since this route was the main source of local income for the rebels, who patrol a stretch of this road from Muhamalai to Omanthai in the Northern Province. The LTTE levies taxes and tolls on goods, persons and vehicles passing through this stretch of road. According to the Website of the Ministry of Defence of the Government of Sri Lanka, “It is believed that the LTTE daily collects more than (Sri Lankan) Rs. 900,000 in the form of illegal tax and other revenue in this road. From Omanthai in the cleared area [area under Government control], an average of 7000-8000 civilians and 1000- 1200 vehicles cross the stretch of land daily. Records revealed that the LTTE extortions to be an estimated sum of Rs. 200- 300 million from Jaffna bound cargo passing from its entry-exit point in Pallai. The estimated illegal tax revenue for the LTTE from the goods sent to Jaffna through A-9 road from June 01st to 19th is Rs. 65,721,821. LTTE also earned Rs. 285 million from goods to Jaffna, during March-April, on the festive eve on the Sinhala-Tamil New Year.”
As a counter, the Government has sought to maintain the sea routes to Jaffna as the principal supply line, but the LTTE has declared that it would not allow Government vessels to use the sea because the Cease Fire Agreement (CFA) has not distinguished marine areas controlled by the Government from those controlled but the outfit. As one commentator notes, while the “CFA had demarcated these areas on land, it had not done so in the sea, as it was then agreed that the sea was the exclusive preserve of the Sri Lankan state. While banning the use of the sea, the LTTE offered to open the land route or the A9 highway. But the Government is not keen on taking the offer of the land route because of the fear that the LTTE may hijack a part of the supplies or illegally tax the consignments en route.”
Several changes have taken place between Geneva I and Geneva II, infinitely compounding the situation, both politically and militarily: The Sri Lanka Supreme Court’s October 16 ruling that the temporary merger of the northern and eastern provinces, effected in 1987 and extended annually, was "null and void and illegal" and that the President has no powers to effect a merger of provinces under Emergency Regulation, and only Parliament could decide on the subject; the European Union’s ban on the LTTE as a terrorist organisation; mounting fatalities – totaling 3,413: 788 civilians, 664 troops and 1,961 LTTE cadres in the intervening period; the emergence of the Southern Consensus; the Government’s military gains, and the LTTE’s escalating campaigns of violence. Unsurprisingly, Geneva II achieved even less than the notional gains of Geneva I. Almost immediately after Geneva I, intelligence sources stated that a large-scale LTTE war drill was in progress in the Kanjikudichcharu area of Ampara District. This time around, the ground situation can be expected to worsen, unless international community is able to exert real and irresistible pressure on both sides. If the mounting number of CFA violations is any indicator – 3,737 by the LTTE and 280 by the Government between February 22, 2002 and August 30, 2006 – the ceasefire is over, and the country has returned to real war.
With 248 militancy related deaths in 2006 (data till October 22), Manipur remains the third most violent theatre of conflict in the country, behind Jammu & Kashmir and Chhattisgarh. While each of Manipur’s nine districts has been affected by unending militant violence, severely impacting on the capacity of the state to govern, administer justice, and provide minimal security to its citizens, the pattern of violence has been the most persistent and convoluted in the hilly District of Churachandpur.
Located in the south-western corner of Manipur and spread over an area of 4,570 square kilometres, Churachandpur or Lamka (as the locals call it) meaning 'roads meeting at a mouth', is the largest district in the State. While it shares its northern and eastern boundaries with six of Manipur’s Districts (Imphal East, Tamenglong, Senapati, Bishnupur, Thoubal and Chandel), in the west and south, it is bound by Assam, Mizoram and Myanmar. The District population was 228,707, according to the 2001 census, and was distributed across several tribes, most belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Mizo group. The District also has sizeable Meitei (dominant in the valley areas of the Manipur) and a marginal Naga (dominant in the Hill Districts of Manipur) population.
In an age of competitive primordial assertion, ethnic diversity has been the bane of Churachandpur. The District has scarred by the bitter ethnic clashes between the Kukis and the Nagas that have recurred in several of the Hill Districts in the State since 1992. Similarly, in 1997, the Kuki and the Zomi tribes clashed, resulting in an undocumented number of fatalities and large internal displacement. With passing days, several militant groups, each claiming to represent specific tribes, and more often than not, multiple outfits claiming to represent the same tribe (e.g. there are about nine groups claiming to represent the Kukis), have cropped up in the State, and almost all of them have significant presence in Churachandpur. Even the Valley-based outfits, such as the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), have found secure bases in Churachandpur.
The geography and patterns of population settlement in the District have facilitated the militants in no small manner. As per the 1994-95 satellite imagery, the total built-up area of Churachandpur was 6,726 Hectares (Urban - 585 Hectares and Rural - 6,141 Hectares), just 1.47 per cent of the total land mass, and the cropland area is 9,928 hectares (2.17 per cent of the District territory). Apart from a handful of tiny townships like Henglep, Thanlon, Tipaimukh and the District headquarters at Churachandpur, the population is located over many scattered villages, often separated by hills, rivers, rivulets, streams, bamboo groves and thickets, each afflicted by serious problems of transportation and communication. For example, many interior villages in the District can only be reached after a journey involving a three to four days’ trek from the District Headquarters.
While Churachandpur has been the hotbed of intense militancy, the incident that brought the District to the national limelight in 2006 was the rape and molestation of at least 25 women belonging to the Hmar tribe, by cadres of Valley-based militant groups, the UNLF and the KCP. On January 6, 10 girls, some of them minors, were raped or molested and several villagers assaulted in Parbung village in the Tipaimukh sub-division, located in the southern part of the District. One boy, whose two sisters were sexually assaulted, was shot dead the same night. Ten days later, on the night of January 16, about 18 armed militants assaulted about 402 villagers of Lungthulien. They went on to molest and rape 15 girls and women aged between 12 and 27. The villagers were so terrified that early in the morning of January 17 many of them fled to neighbouring Mizoram. 650 people were accommodated in camps set up by the Mizoram Government at Sakawrdai.
Fear of reprisal attacks by the militants ensured that the incidents were brought to the notice of an unresponsive and incapacitated administration only in the month of March. Widespread condemnation forced the State Government to appoint a one-man Inquiry Commission, whose report has since been submitted. Notwithstanding the finding of the Commission, the state’s ability to prosecute the militants remains severely limited, to say the least. Both the State and other agencies have found it convenient to view the incident as an isolated and horrific act that needs immediate punitive action – though the latter remains improbable. Moreover, one can hardly ignore the fact that the tribal population of Churachandpur has constantly been subjected to systematic acts of terror by Valley-based militant groups, who have tended to exploit the schism between the Valley and the Hills. For a number of years, the UNLF maintained ‘liberated zones’ in areas like Henglep, until the Army claimed to have flushed them out in January 2006. ‘Operation Dragnet’ launched by the Army on January 20, resulted in the death of seven UNLF militants and two army personnel including a Lieutenant Colonel. Although Army personnel are deployed in areas like Parbung and Lungthulien, militant activities continue to be reported from adjoining areas, and prominent incidents this year include:
Planting of anti-personnel landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by the groups like the UNLF and the KCP to deter the movement of the SFs has been constant in the militancy in Churachandpur. Areas like Singngat, Thanlon, Henglep and Tipaimukh sub-divisions have been the worst affected. A number of civilians have also been killed, injured or maimed in landmine/ IED explosions. Separate data for Churachandpur is unavailable, but official data for the State indicates that three persons were killed and 30 were injured in 37 IED/mine blasts in 2004. The situation worsened in 2005 with 26 persons killed and 75 injured in 66 blasts. Till August 2006, there have been 33 incidents of IED/mine explosions, in which 17 persons have been killed and 73 were injured. A bulk of these incidents has taken place in Churachandpur District. The Hmar Students` Association, in fact, quotes much higher figures for the District, claiming that 81 persons have died in landmine blasts and booby traps planted by militants at Tipaimukh between September 2004 and January 2006. Recently, on August 15, 2006, a 57-year old man, identified as Lalroshang was killed in a landmine explosion at Parbung. In a muted official response, on September 18, 2006, the Manipur State Legislative Assembly passed a resolution condemning the planting of IEDs/mines.
While Valley-based militants appear to carry a mandate of sorts to target the non-Meitei population in the State, which is often implicitly endorsed by sections of the intelligentsia and human rights groups located in the Meitei dominated capital, Imphal, (this was evident in the muted reaction that the mass rape incidents attracted in mainland Manipur), such violence is only a part of the narrative on militancy in Churachandpur. The hill based militant outfits are also responsible for a substantial share of militancy-related excesses, and 13 of these groups operate in Churachandpur, each claiming to represent the rights of particular tribes. Incidentally, nine Kuki groups had signed a ‘cessation of hostility agreement’ with the Union Government in September 2005. That has, however, done little to lessen the spate of violence in the District.
Incidents of the tribal militants rising against atrocities on their own constituencies by Valley-based militants are surprisingly rare. In January 2006, the UNLF and the Hmar People’s Convention-Democracy (HPC-D) militants clashed in the Parbung area, and this resulted in the migration of the civilian population to Mizoram. On January 27, 2006, the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), in a statement, accused UNLF of pursuing divisive tactics among various tribal communities. On September 15, 2006, the obscure Hmar National Army (HNA) issued a Press Release with a warning that if the Manipur Government failed to look into its demands of relief and rehabilitation facilities to the Hmar Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) within 45 days, it would be constrained to serve a ‘quit notice’ on the Meitei community in Churachandpur. The notice, however, was never served.
Such symbolic bravado notwithstanding, internecine clashes among the tribal groups have brought about bigger miseries upon the people. Just the past six months several such incidents have been witnessed:
Attacks on civilians have also been common, and the more prominent of recent attacks include the killing of a civilian, Songkhotinthang alias Tinthang, at Bijang Buite Veng by the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) on April 22; the killing of a youth, Ginpithang Kipgen, at a place between Nengthal and Ngathal, by ZRA militants on June 30; and the killing of two civilians and injury to four others, when a group of ZRA cadres opened fire towards a crowded church, targeting a patrol party of the Assam Rifles at Vengnuom on August 20. These incidents are only the most significant in widespread regimes of intimidation, extortion and quotidian violence by terrorist groups across the District.
The situation in Churachandpur is part of the enveloping anarchy in Manipur, and must be blamed squarely on the collapse of governance in the State. The problem here can by no means be attributed to a dearth of security personnel or resources. Compared to the national average of 122 policemen per 100,000 population, Manipur has a ratio of 535/100,000. In addition, the presence of the Army and para-military forces make it one of the most heavily securitized States in the entire country, and expenditure on security is substantially underwritten by the Centre. With the State administration constantly surrendering to terrorist pressures over the years, Districts like Churachandpur can be expected to remain subject to cycles of militancy in the foreseeable future.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
October 23-29, 2006
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
Militancy may assume shape of mini war, says Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil: Warning that militancy may assume the shape of a "mini-war" in the country, Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on October 24, 2006, asked all para-military forces to gear up to meet any eventuality that could emerge out of the menace. Apprehensions have already been expressed that terrorism can have dangerous manifestations and might convert into a mini-war. “Hence, it is imperative for all police forces especially central para-military forces to keep themselves ready to meet any eventualities,” Patil said at the 45th Raising Day celebrations of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police in New Delhi. Noting that the weaponry of the terrorists was changing everyday, he said “every eventuality has to be met with grit and determination”. Terrorism in all its manifestations needs to be checked and defeated, he said. Tribune India, October 25, 2006.
809 Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram insurgents surrender in Tripura: 809 insurgents belonging to the Bru Liberation Front of Mizoram (BLFM) surrendered at Naisingpara in Tripura on October 23, 2006. The insurgents, who fought a guerilla war for about nine years, deposited 75 fire arms, including AK-47 rifles, pistols, and country-made guns, and live cartridges and grenades with the Mizoram Government officials. After the surrender facilitated by the Assam Rifles, the BLFM insurgents left for Mizoram. Thangzuala, a Mizoram Police official who came to Naisingpara to receive the insurgents, told reporters that each surrendered insurgent would be given INR 40,000 as grant and lodged in Government-run camps at Damparengpui in the Mamit District for a year. The Hindu, October 24, 2006.
Maoists extend cease-fire by three months: The Maoists have extended the ongoing cease-fire by a further period of three months. Issuing a Press statement on October 29, 2006, Maoist chairman Prachanda said the extension of the cease-fire is aimed at creating a conducive environment for brining the ongoing talks to a positive conclusion and to announce the date of constituent assembly elections. Prachanda said the dialogue between the seven-party alliance Government and his party was “moving positively but no conclusion has been reached” and expressed hope that the talks would succeed and the country would soon head towards the constituent assembly elections – as per the aspirations of the Nepali people for peace, democracy and progress and the mandate of the people’s movement. His announcement came hours after his meeting with Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala in Baluwatar. Though no decisions were taken at the meeting, the two reportedly discussed the main contentious issues – the fate of monarchy and management of Maoist arms. Nepal News, October 30, 2006.
US paid Pakistan billions of dollars to counter terrorism, indicates Congressional Research Service: Pakistan has received billions of dollars in reimbursement for its support of US-led counter-terrorism operations, while Congress has appropriated billions of dollars to reimburse Pakistan for its support of counter-terrorism operations. According to an updated version of a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on Pakistan, “As of September 2006, a total of $6.64 billion had been appropriated for FY2002-FY2007 Defence Department spending for coalition support payments to Pakistan and other cooperating nations. Pentagon documents indicate that disbursements to Islamabad account for the great majority of these funds: about $3.6 billion for operations from January 2002 through August 2005, an amount roughly equal to one-quarter of Pakistan’s total military expenditures during that period. The Defence Department Appropriations Act, 2007 would allow that up to $900 million in Pentagon funds be used for FY2007 reimbursements.”
Pakistan is among the world’s leading recipients of US aid, obtaining more than $3.5 billion in direct US assistance for FY2002-FY2006, including $1.5 billion in security-related aid. The CRS report says US concerns regarding Pakistan include regional terrorism, Pakistan-Afghanistan relations, weapon proliferation, the ongoing Kashmir problem and Pakistan-India tensions, human rights protection and economic development. The report adds, “Top US officials regularly praise Islamabad for its ongoing cooperation, although doubts exist about Islamabad’s commitment to some core US interests. Pakistan is identified as a base for terrorist groups and their supporters operating in Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan.” Daily Times, October 29, 2006.
Taliban plotting attacks in Europe: Afghan militants are planning to launch deadly attacks on civilians in Europe in revenge for the 2001 invasion by United States-led forces, a Taliban commander said on Sky News television on October 23, 2006. Mullah Mohammed Amin said resurgent militants had built up stockpiles of weapons and were bent on vengeance against “the foreign invaders”. The Taliban, overthrown by the invasion, now wanted to export terror to the West, he said. “It’s acceptable to kill ordinary people in Europe because these are the people who have voted in the Government,” he said. “They came to our home and attacked our women and children,” he added. According to him: “The ordinary people of these countries are behind this – so we will not spare them. We will kill them and laugh over them like they are killing us and laughing at us.” Amin said the Taliban were inspired by tactics used by insurgents in Iraq, namely remote-controlled bombs, land mines and suicide bombers. “They are our best tactic,” he said. Fighters were sheltering in Pakistan and being aided by sympathetic locals, he said in an interview with the British TV channel in the Pakistani border region. Daily Times, October 24, 2006.
Geneva talks end without any agreement: The two-day talks between the Sri Lanka Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in Geneva on October 29, 2006, without an agreement on any of the issues or future engagement. The dialogue is reported to have collapsed on the subject of the closure of the A9 Highway, which links Jaffna peninsula and the rest of Sri Lanka. The LTTE insisted that the peace process was contingent on re-opening of the highway, while the Government said it was compelled to close the highway for security reasons and that the LTTE was raking up the issue as it was not serious about discussing "core political issues". The Norwegian Minister, Eric Solheim, told journalists that in its capacity as facilitator, his country would continue to be engaged in shuttle diplomacy to persuade the two sides to return to the dialogue table. The Hindu, October 30, 2006.
SLFP-UNP sign Memorandum of Understanding: The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the opposition United National Party (UNP) on October 23, 2006, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on collaboration on key national issues, at Temple Trees in the capital Colombo. After the signing, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said that the move was a manifestation of the need for placing the country before self and party, and would undoubtedly be a shining example to whole of South Asia. He said, "We have begun a new chapter in our political history. I urge our Ministers and Parliamentarians to sincerely sacrifice their special privileges and facilities for the sake of the country. This get-together was a result of a long and tedious exercise to enable our people to live in peace and harmony sans fear and suspicion, by defeating terrorism. This is a great victory for us.” Rajapaksa said that the signing of the MoU will consolidate their stand and deliberations on reaching a negotiated political settlement to the North-East crisis. "We needed a Southern consensus. That was what the LTTE and the international community were asking for. We have now achieved it," he said. Daily News, October 24, 2006.