Overview: Insurgency & Peace Efforts in Manipur

Insurgency

ingdom of Manipur was merged with the Indian Union on 15 October 1949. However, only after a protracted agitation interspersed with violence, it was declared a separate state in 1972. The emergence of insurgency in Manipur is formally traced to the emergence of the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) on 24 November 1964. The alleged ‘forced’ merger of Manipur and the delay in the conferring of full-fledged statehood to it was greatly resented by the people of Manipur. Since then several other outfits, like the People's Liberation Army (PLA), founded on September 25, 1978, People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) set up on October 9, 1977 and the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) that came into being in April, 1980 have emerged in the valley areas consisting of four districts of the State. All these insurgent groups have been demanding a separate independent Manipur.

The hill areas of the State, comprising five districts, have been affected by different brands of militancy. From Nagaland, violence by the Naga groups has also spilled over into Manipur, a substantial part of which is claimed by the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) as part of Nagalim, the proposed unified territory of the Nagas as claimed by the Naga rebels. Several clashes between the NSCN-IM and the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) have been reported from the hill districts of the State. Kuki tribals in the early 1990s initiated their own brand of insurgency against the alleged oppression by the NSCN-IM. Following ethnic clashes between the Nagas and Kukis in the early 1990s, a number of Kuki outfits were formed. Several other tribes, such as the Paite, Vaiphei and Hmars have also established their own armed groups. Similarly, Islamist outfits like the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF) have also been founded to protect the interests of the ‘Pangals’ (Manipuri Muslims).

Today, Manipur is one of the worst affected states in the Northeast where at least 12 insurgent outfits are active at present. A report of the State Home department in May 2005 indicated that ‘as many as 12,650 cadres of different insurgent outfits with 8830 weapons are actively operating in the State’. According to government sources, the strength of those concentrated in the valley districts, is assessed at around 1500 cadres for the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF) and its army wing, the PLA, 2500 cadres for the UNLF and its army wing Manipur People’s Army (MPA), 500 cadres for the PREPAK and its army wing Red Army, while Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) and its Yawol Lanmi army is assessed as having a strength of 600 cadres. The Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP)’s strength is assessed at 100 cadres.

In Manipur, the valley-based outfits have remained active and the security force operations have made little difference to their capabilities. The UNLF, PLA, KYKL, PREPAK and the KCP have been involved in some of the serious attacks on security forces. The insurgents have an avowed policy of not targeting the state police personnel, unless circumstances demand it. The practice of directing their attack on the Army and the central para-military personnel is an attempt to create a divide between Manipur and India and to secure vital popular support.

Unlike other conflict theatres of the Northeast, not many ‘surrenders’ have been reported from Manipur, thus indicating the tight control that the outfits have maintained over their cadres. Armed with an extremely efficient intelligence network and superior fire power, the militants have been able to carve out a number of liberated zones across the State. By the end of 2007, however, the security forces had managed to dislodge the militants from most of such zones except for one in the New Somtal area in Chandel district. The reign of terror has manifested in other forms as well, since the rule of the insurgents has combined with a complete retreat of civil governance. The insurgents continue to terrorize and extort with impunity, and people have little option but to obey their diktats.

There are incidents in which militants of the State have targeted VIPs. One such attack was planned on Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh on November 23, 2007. Incidents of firing and grenade explosions targeting the residences of Ministers and Members of the State Legislative Assembly are still continuing. At present, there are more than 30 militant groups in Manipur (12 are active as stated above), including 10 KCP factions and 19 Kuki outfits operating in the state. Naga militant outfits such as NSCN-IM and NSCN-K are also operating in parts of the State's hill districts. The Kuki outfits are now in a mode of Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Government.

Due to the problem of militancy, the investments meant for infrastructural development have been divested in countering the growing unemployment in the State. There has been increase in educated unemployed youths in the State and they are now becoming ready recruits for the militant outfits. The cases of extortion are also increasing. Militants have resorted to extorting from almost all places including places of worship, educational institutes, health centres and commercial establishments. This has led to closure of quite a few establishments in the State.

Adding to the woes of the State, the Naga insurgents, operating from Nagaland and the hills districts of Manipur, have been dominating the two National Highways, NH-39 and NH-53, imposing taxes on the use of the roads and subsequent punishment on not paying it. There are 26 permanent and systematic ‘tax’ collection points along these roads thus hampering Manipur’s link with Assam and the rest of India.

Another serious problem created by the militants is the kidnapping of children to train them to become members of insurgent outfits. There are also incidents of killing of non-Manipuri by the militants. The media in the State has also suffered and there had been quite a few incidents in which media persons have been killed by unidentified miscreants.

Manipur had been declared a ‘disturbed area’ in its entirety in 1980 and the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) 1958 was imposed in the State on 8 September, 1980, which continues to be in place till now. The implementation of this Act resulted in the State witnessing an unprecedented civic uprising, including the infamous “mothers’ nude protest” against the Act in July 2004 on the discovery of the mutilated body of Thangjam Manorama, after she was picked up by the Assam Rifles and later found dead. The AFSPA is still embroiled in controversy and the people of Manipur are continuing their protest against the Act.

Manipur turned tense on the news of the visit of NSCN-IM general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah to his native village Somdal in Ukhrul district of Manipur on the first week of May 2010. The Manipur State Cabinet on April 30, 2010 decided not to allow entry of Muivah in Manipur as it considered that there are possibilities of disturbances in the state if the NSCN-IM leader comes to Manipur. It clamped Section 144 of Cr PC in the Senapati district and brought in additional forces in order to prevent entry of Muivah in Manipur. After this decision of the government, seven Naga MLAs resigned protesting the move. On May 6, 2010, the situation in Mao border gate, through which Muivah was expected to enter Manipur, turned tense. A number of locals stormed a temporary security barrack which lead the security personnel resort to firing leaving three locals dead and fifty others, including women, injured. After this incident and at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Muivah postponed his visit to Somdal and camped himself in Viswema village near the Mao gate on the inter-state border of Nagaland and Manipur. The situation is still at a stalemate with Muivah saying he would visit his native village and Manipur government determined not to not allow entry of Muivah in the state.

After the Manipur government denied entry to Muivah, various Naga tribal groups launched an indefinite economic blockade in Manipur. An economic blockade was already in place in Manipur from April 11, 2010 by Naga groups residing in Manipur protesting the state government’s decision to hold autonomous council elections and after the state government denied the entry of Muivah, the Naga groups continued with the blockade. Hundreds of trucks carrying essentials and medicines were stranded in the adjoining state of Nagaland with protesters blocking the National Highway 39, the main lifeline to Manipur. The economic blockade is causing acute shortage of essential commodities in the state. The government is now airlifting the essential commodities to Manipur and using alternative routes, like the National Highway 53, connecting Assam with Manipur.

Eventually, on June 5, 2010, the Central Government persuaded Muivah to leave Vishwema village where he had been camping since May 6, 2010. The blockade of NH-39 was lifted on June 18, 2010 after negotiations with different Naga groups.

On November 31, 2010 Rajkumar Meghen alias Sana Yaima, chairman of UNLF, was arrested from Motihari in East Champaran district of Bihar. He had earlier gone missing after being reportedly arrested in Bangladesh in September 2010.

Between 1992 and 2010, at least 5665 people were killed in insurgency related incidents in Manipur. However, the number of fatalities is showing a decreasing trend. In 2008, there were 485 insurgency-related fatalities which decreased to 416 in 2009 and in 2010 it fell down to 138. Still, Manipur remains the most volatile state in the north-eastern region. (source: www.satp.org)

Peace Efforts

The government, to start with, viewed the insurgency problem in a pure law and order paradigm. Arrest of many insurgent leaders during the war of liberation in Bangladesh in 1971, appeared to have led to a gradual decline in the insurgency before it was revived by the PLA’s establishment in 1978. This necessitated the declaration of the valley area as ‘disturbed’ and imposition of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, in September 1980. Security force campaigns through a series of manoeuvres contained insurgency till the later half of the 1980s. However, the resurgent groups, along with a mushrooming of new outfits and internecine conflicts between tribal groups, drove the entire paradigm of insurgency to a completely different plane in the early 1990s.

Whereas the insurgent outfits have remained completely opposed to government appeals for peace, on 26 November 2000, the UNLF put forward three conditions for talks with New Delhi. The outfit demanded that New Delhi should include the agenda of sovereignty if it was truly serious about its offer of talks adding that the Centre must first ‘demilitarise’ the region and a third country should monitor the talks. This was unacceptable to the government. On 28 February 2001, Chief Minister Radhabinod Koijam offered a unilateral month-long cease-fire, commencing 1 March 2001 to 17 outfits in the State. On 19 March 2001, Governor Ved Marwah announced the setting up of a contact group to liaison with extremist organisations in the State. However, these moves were rejected by the outfits.

Civil society institutions and community based organisations have been very influential in Manipur and have often played significant role in the containment of conflict. The Meira Paibis (women torch bearers) constitute one such force. They have been active in protesting human rights violations and unjustifiable arrests by the security forces, and in taking action against social ills such as drug abuse and alcoholism. Another women’s movement in Manipur, the Nupi (Women’s) Movement, has also organised many demonstrations for peace and for the protection of human rights in the State. The Manipur Chanura Leishem Marup (MACHA LEIMA) is another leading women’s organisation, which has been organising a series of human rights workshops for women in Manipur since 1997. There are also several civil rights activists and groups including the United Committee of Manipur (UCM) in the State. Their concerns have focussed on civil liberties and the violation of rights. Most of them have been in the forefront of the anti-AFSPA agitation in the state since August 2004, following the death of an alleged PLA woman cadre Manorama Devi in the hands of the Assam Rifles personnel.

Until the claim by the security establishment in 2005 of several rebel groups having entered into a truce with the authorities, insurgents in Manipur were not known to pursuing a soft approach. The Ministry of Defence in a press release dated October 7, 2005, disclosed that eight Kuki and one Zomi militant group in Manipur had entered into an informal ‘ceasefire’ with the Government. 'Cessation of operations' agreements were concluded with these groups with effect from August 1, 2005. It was like a ray of hope for Manipur that has been under the grip of militants for years together. But, this caused little difference to the levels of militancy-related incidents and fatalities since the strong and the prominent groups like the UNLF, the PLA, the PREPAK and the KYKL were not willing for any kind of negotiations.

The Government has at present signed Suspension of Operations (SoO) with the Kuki rebel outfits. The Suspension of Operation Agreement had been endorsed at New Delhi by emissaries of Kuki rebels, the Centre and State government respectively on 22 August, 2008. In March 2010, the Union Home Secretary G.K.Pillai held a series of meetings with the leaders of the Kuki National Front (KNF) in Manipur and the talks between the government and the outfit are expected to take place soon.

In September 2006, the UNLF, forwarded a four point formula to start a plebiscite process for resolution of the conflict in Manipur. These included, (1) A plebiscite under United Nations (UN) supervision to elicit the opinion of the people of the State on the core issue of restoration of Manipur’s independence. (2) Deployment of a UN peace-keeping force in Manipur to ensure that the process is free and fair. (3) Surrender of arms by the UNLF to the UN force, matched by the withdrawal of Indian troops and (4) Handing over of political power by the UN in accordance with the results of the plebiscite. The proposal was rejected by the State government.

Though many interpreted the move as a step forward towards peace negotiation, it is for sure that the Government of India would not accept the intervention of the UN in what is invariably its internal problem. With the outfit’s continued sticking to such conditions, peace negotiation remains a distant dream under such circumstances. Similar is the case with PLA when its ‘political wing’ president Irengbam Chaoren reiterated that the outfit would not sit for peace talks with the government when he addressed the ‘29th raising day’ of the Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF) on 24 February 2008.

In the face of the militants groups’ stubborn opposition to the idea of negotiating with the Indian government, army and police operations against them has remained the key to the conflict management process in Manipur. Several military operations have been led by the unified command structure, which was established in 2004, against the valley based militant outfits. Their achievements have been limited and temporary.

On its part, the State government has been constantly urging the militants to lay down their arms and surrender. It is offering Rs. 5 Lakh as fixed deposit and a monthly stipend of Rs.5,000 for those militants who surrender.
(Updated till 26 January, 2011)