Friday, Sep 24, 2021

Endless Terror

Each of Manipur's nine districts has been severely affected by militancy, but the hilly district of Chandel has witnessed one of the most persistent campaigns of violence.

Endless Terror
Endless Terror

Initially called Tengnoupal, the Chandel district was created on May 13, 1974. Spread over 3,313 square kilometers, Chandel is the fourth largest district of Manipur, and lies in the south-eastern part of the state, bordering Myanmar on the south, Ukhrul district on the east, Churachandpur district on the south and west, and Thoubal district on the north. With a population of 1,22,714 (as per 2001 Census), Chandel is the third most sparsely populated district in the state. Close to 86 per cent of the total population are tribals from about 20 different tribes, prominently consisting of Anal, Lamkang, Moyon, Monsang, Chothe and Maring (collectively known as old Kuki), Thadou and Zou, as well as some Meitei. Nearly 88 per cent of the population lives in a total of 361 villages.

The district is divided into three sub-divisions: Tengnoupal, Chandel and Chakpikarong and seven police stations: Tengnoupal, Moreh, Chandel, Chakpikarong, Pallel, Machi and Molcham. The district headquarters, located at Chandel, is just about 64 kilometres from the state capital, Imphal, connected by National Highway 39 and state Highway 10. In spite of its proximity to the centre of political and administrative power in the state, Chandel remains one of the most backward districts of Manipur. The reach of the district administration to the scattered hamlets, often consisting of no more than 50-60 houses, separated by hills, bamboo thickets and streams, remains rather limited.

A significant proportion of the blame for the state of affairs goes to the raging militancy in the district. A total of 38 militancy-related fatalities were reported from Chandel in 2006. Eight civilians, seven security force (SF) personnel and 23 militants were killed in separate incidents. The proximity of the district to Myanmar, which has been used by the Valley based militants as a safe haven for years, has been the bane of Chandel. These militant outfits frequent the district en route Myanmar.

The UNLF and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) remain the most dominant militant groups in the district. In 2006, the UNLF accounted for 15 fatalities, including two civilians and five SF personnel, while PLA-related incidents claimed 11 lives, including two SF personnel. Significant incidents of violence involving these groups in 2006 included:

  • January 14: Two Assam Rifles personnel and an unidentified PLA cadre were killed at the Khoibu Maring village under Tengnoupal police station.

  • March 11: Four unidentified PLA cadres and a woman, Maikham Singlai, were killed and a two-year old child wounded, in an encounter between SF personnel and militants near Chingkhan Yonyer village under the Tengnoupal Police Station...

  • June 14: Three PLA militants are killed and four others wounded in an ambush laid by the SF personnel at Wakshu under Tengnoupal Police Station limits in the Chandel district. Three AK-47 rifles, along with a huge cache of ammunition and incriminating documents, were recovered from the site of the incident.

  • July 13: UNLF kills a Junior Commissioned Officer of the Assam Rifles, T.B. Pun, at Moreh town.

  • August 11: Three UNLF cadres were killed while two others sustained injuries following an exchange of fire with the SF personnel at Semol.

  • August 13: SF personnel killed two UNLF cadres during an encounter at Laibi under Tengnoupal Police Station jurisdiction.

  • September 9: One SF personnel was killed and two others sustained injuries during an encounter with the UNLF at Khenjoi under the Molcham Police Station jurisdiction.

  • November 18: A civilian, Khuraijam Shingajit, was shot dead by an unidentified militant at Pallel Bazaar.

  • December 6: Two security force personnel were killed in an encounter at an unspecified place between Phaijol and Khengjoi ranges and the UNLF, subsequently, claimed responsibility for the attack.

  • December 29: UNLF militants attacked the Border Security Force post at Aigijang near Sajik Tampak, using mortar shells, though no casualties were reported.

Chandel’s Khengjoi-Dingpi area, located in the south-eastern part of the district and consisting of about 40 hamlets, is an example of the virtual free run that the militants enjoy in parts of the state. Attacks on the tribal population by valley-based militants in Khengjoi-Dingpi date back to 2001 and most of such attacks have remained unreported in the media. In 2001, subsequent to an encounter with the United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) near Aibol-Joupi Village, UNLF militants assaulted the villagers. A penalty of Rs 100,000 and Rs 50,000 were reportedly imposed on Aiboljoupi and Hollenjang villages.

In the complete absence of the state machinery, moreover, it is the militants, who ‘govern’ the region and, in order to increase their acceptability, they are known to have constructed water tanks and few community halls. They have also periodically intimidated the civilian population, and some cases of sexual assault on tribal girls have also been lodged with the local police.

The major influx of the Valley-based militants into Khengjoi-Dingpi areas began after security posts at Sehlon and Phaisanjang, in place since the Kuki-Naga ethnic clashes of the 1990s, were removed in 2003. The area assumed further strategic importance for the militants after SF operations flushed them out of the ‘liberated zones’ in the Sajik-Tampak area in 2004 and from Henglep following ‘Operation Dragnet’ in early 2006. On December 15, 2006, SF personnel claimed to have cleared several villages in the Khengjoi-Dingpi areas, during a week long counter-insurgency operation. Operations reportedly began after Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during the latter’s one-day visit to Imphal on December 2, that Khengjoi range was the only remaining place in the state where militant camps still existed. During the operation, the UNLF militants are known to have forcibly used villagers of Molcham and Tuileng as human shields against the SFs. On December 18, at least 471 villagers from six villages in the Khengjoi areas, who had fled to Moreh due to the counter-insurgency operation, were escorted back to their respective villages by the SFs. SFs claimed to have recovered and later defused 61 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during the operation. The SF claims that the area had been cleared were, however, quickly dispelled with an ambush by the UNLF on December 22, 2006, in which one SF person was killed and another five injured, in the Khengjoi range. Further on January 8, 2007, the UNLF claimed to have killed two SF personnel near Hengshi. Again on January 9, a stray bullet wounded an old man during an exchange of fire between UNLF cadres and SF personnel at Kamphajal village.

Key to the success of the security forces in the Khengjoi-Dingpi area is the construction of the Tengnoupal Samtal Road, which is projected as the future lifeline for the backward areas in which no state machinery presently exists. Once completed, the road will allow SF personnel easy access to the area. Unsurprisingly, the militants have been using all their powers to stall the project. Intelligence sources indicate that, while the outfits have already intimidated the Border Roads Task Force (BRTF), which is in charge of the project, they also have employed able bodied civilians from 40 odd villages in the area to keep a watch on SF movement. Failure to obey the militants’ diktats is known to invite severe punishment, including death.

Planting of anti-personnel landmines and IEDs by groups such as the UNLF, in order to deter the movement of the SFs, has been a constant in the militancy in Chandel, with areas like Khengjoi-Dingpi most affected by the phenomenon. Thus, on January 7, 2007, at least 71 IEDs were recovered and later defused by the SFs in the area. A number of civilians have been killed, injured or maimed in landmine/IED explosions over the years. Some of the incidents involving landmine/IED explosion in 2006 included:

  • January 9: A civilian, Sokhotinthang Guite, an alleged SF informer, was strapped with a claymore mine and blown to pieces by UNLF militants at Thopikot near Sehao village.

  • March 11: A woman identified as Hoinu Haokip, was killed and three others sustained injuries in a landmine explosion at TNS road between Sehao and Hollenjang village.

  • October 30: A woman Phallam Khongsai, was severely injured when she accidentally stepped onto a landmine.

  • November 16: A civilian, Evan.Thangkhomang Touthang, was killed and another severely injured in a landmine explosion at the Inter village road between Molkon and Jangoulen.

  • December 2: A woman, Nemneikim, was killed in a landmine explosion at Aibol -Jamkhomang village.

  • December 9: A civilian, Yamkithang, was killed in a landmine explosion in his paddy field in New Samtal.

The militancy in Chandel reflects the near-complete administrative breakdown and the retreat of civil governance that afflicts much of Manipur. Regrettably, the increasing public distress and popular concerns are yet to find reflection in an adequate official policy to address the unending crisis of militancy in the district.

Paokholal Haokip is Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management. Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal


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