SoO: A pincer movement?

By : Iboyaima Laithangbam [Imphal Free Press ]

With the signing of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the Kuki and the Hmar tribal militant outfits on August 22, 2008 in New Delhi the state and the Central forces are in a position to concentrate on the valley militants who are “floundering at the pincer movement”. Top ranking police officials who do not want to be named said that as there is no need for counter insurgency operations in the hills since the Naga, the Kuki and the Hmar tribal outfits had signed the ceasefire now available forces will concentrate on decimating the valley militants.

The 19 tribal outfits which had signed the SoO are USRA, UKRA, KNF(MC), KNF(J), KNA, KRA(U), ZDF, ZRF, KNF(P), ZRO/ZRA, HPC(D), UKLF, KRA, KLO/KLA, KNF(S) and KNF. Prominent features are that they have now stopped demanding separate homelands and will protect the territorial integrity of Manipur. They will also surrender all weapons and the armoury will be double locked by their representatives and the army. The designated camps where they must stay should not locate in the immediate vicinity of the international border, the highways and villages,etc. They will refrain from extorting taxes, fines, kidnapping for ransom,ambushing police and security personnel. Significantly, there is no clause which forbids the militants from killing members of other factions. Members of the Naga underground factions have also been killing each other almost every week. Though they do not attack the state and the central forces all Naga inhabited areas have been experiencing bloodshed notwithstanding the ceasefires. This may be same story with the Kuki and the Hmar militants. In fact, the SoO agreement was signed at Ashoka Hotel, New Delhi in well gapped two batches so that the feuding rivals do not come across each other.

Angami Zapu Phizo of Nagaland, then the Naga Hills, a part of Assam, was the first rebel leader who took up arms soon after independence in this region. But his five close associates signed the peace accord in Shillong, the capital of the undivided Assam on November 11, 1975 paving the way for massive surrenders with weapons. The signatories said that they accepted the Constitution of India.

In protest against the accord the hardliners broke away and formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980. It was split into the NSCN(IM) and the NSCN(K) in 1988. The NSCN(IM) signed a ceasefire with the Indian government on June 25, 1997. It was extended “without territorial limits” on June 14,2001. It meant that the ceasefire would be effective in Nagaland and all “Naga inhabited” areas in the NE region. As the extension of the ceasefire had far reaching implications the people of Manipur took up the cudgels on June 18, 2001. The State Assembly complex, offices of several political parties,residences of the Chief Minister and other elected representatives were torched. Altogether 18 persons died during the mayhem. New Delhi hastily withdrew the ceasefire from Assam,Manipur and Aurnachal pradesh. However instances are not lacking to show that it is extended to Manipur “informally”. Several rounds of talks have been held between the Indian government and the NSCN(IM) under the provisions of the ceasefire. However these have been infructuous since New Delhi cannot agree to the demand for the unification of the Naga inhabited areas in view of the objections by the governments and peoples of the neighbouring states. In fact one important agenda of the UPA is that the existing boundaries will not be altered. The NSCN(K) had also signed a ceasefire with the Indian government in April 2001 although the militant leaders are yet to come to the negotiating table. Earlier, the ceasefire with the NSCN(IM) was extended in terms of six months or one year. But it was extended indefinitely from July 31,2007.

The army brought about a rapprochment with the Kuki and the Hmar rebels in Manipur. In fact some valley outfits said that some Kuki militants had joined hands with the army in attacking their camps in the inaccessible mountains. The army had signed the SoO with the Kuki and the Hmar rebels on August 1, 2005. However the Manipur government refused to honour it.Chief Minister Okram Ibobi who is also in charge of Home said that the state government was not taken into confidence.As per provisions of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 the army was called in to assist the civil administration. Police and paramilitary forces continued to kill and arrest the Kuki and the Hmar militants. Lots of strings were pulled and Ibobi was summoned to New Delhi time and again.Because if a ceasefire is signed with these tribal outfits there will be peace in the hills with the result that the available forces could be used in tackling insurgency in the valley areas. During the meetings Ibobi is understood to have pointed out that unless there are fool-proof and acceptable ground rules the militants will misuse the ceasefire to strengthen their organisations and burgeon the armed movement. Once the loopholes were plugged the Manipur government gave its approval to the SoO on July 29, 2008. At Ibobi’s insistence a monitoring cell comprising the state and the central officials was formed. On the basis of the reports of the monitoring cell on the flagrant violation of the ground rules,if any, the Manipur government reserves the right to launch counter insurgency operations operations against the Kuki and the Hmar rebels. The valley insurgents are keeping their fingers crossed while waiting and watching the developments.

The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 gives the central forces carte blanche while dealing with the militants and their accomplices. Made of sterner stuff, the valley militants had spurned peace talks offers by three successive Prime Ministers. They have not signed any ceasefire or accords and over the decades less than 500 armed militants had surrendered. Though the government had reserved all grade three and four government jobs for the surrenderees some of them had joined police and paramilitary forces for their own security. Even armed policemen who elected to come to their homes once in a blue moon were gunned down by the ubiquitous militants.

The valley militant groups who are ruling the roost in the valley are the UNLF, the RPF, the KYKL, the PREPAK, the KCP, the KCP(MC), the Islamic militant group, the PULF,etc. When the army was called in at the fag end of 1980 the officers said that it was for the first time that they were facing the urban guerilla warfare in Manipur. When peace talks were offered all but one underground organisations ignored them. The Revolutionary People’s Front said that the only issue it will talk with the Indian government is the modality of restoring the independence to Manipur.

Manipur in its ancient name,Kangleipak, had been an indepdnent kingdom with a royal chronicle listing the reigns of the kings for over 2000 years.The Britishers had conquered Manipur on April 23, 1891.On the eve of independence Manipur and other princely states were restored their independence. But King Churachand of Manipur who was put under house arrest in Shillong had to sign the merger agreement on dotted lines on Sept 19, 1949. Manipur and Tripura, another princely state of the region, were formally merged to the union of India on October 15,1949. However it was pointed out that the king who was merely a titular head had no power to sign such a document. Because in 1946 a legislative council was set up replacing the darbar. The Manipur State Constitution Act, the Manipur State Eelection Act,etc were enacted in 1948. The king could sign a document only with the approval of the State Assembly. However the state Assembly never discussed the merger issue.

The battleline is drawn between the police,security forces and the valley insurgents in Manipur.


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