If the first two-odd months of year 2005 are any indication, the
militancy-ridden state of Manipur appears to be moving into an even more vicious
cycle of violence. 74 fatalities have been reported in 132 militancy-related
incidents between January 1 and March 10, 2005. Militants account for more than
half of the fatalities with a total of 39 deaths, but there were 25 civilian
fatalities as well. In comparison, the entire year 2004 - which saw significant
escalation as a result of enormous political mismanagement and widespread civil
disturbances - was witness to 219 insurgency-related deaths (Civilians-50;
Security Forces (SF)-41; Militants-128). Year 2003 had seen198 fatalities (27
civilians, 23 SFs, 148 militants).
Visibly, the current fatalities within militant ranks have been the result of continuous military operations since September 2004 in a 'synchronised onslaught', for which some successes have been claimed, though 10 SF personnel have already fallen to militant attacks. But the claims of SF 'successes' are ambiguous at best.
The Naga-inhabited hill areas have been traditionally free from the militancy perpetrated by the Meitei outfits, and it is mostly the Valley which witnesses a majority of militant incidents and engagements with the SFs. There appears to be little change in this pattern, and 112 of the 132 incidents this year have taken place in the five districts of Imphal East, Imphal West, Bishnupur, Thoubal and Churachandpur, suggesting little weakening of the insurgent will or ranks.
Districts sharing the international border with Myanmar - Chandel and Ukhrul
- have been somewhat marginally affected with 10 and 5 reported incidents,
respectively. More significant is the 'element of spread' of violence which
involves at least 16 outfits. All major as well as many fringe groupings, of the
30 odd outfits in the state, with an estimated 10,000 cadres between them, have
been involved in the violence this year.
Crucially, the largest proportion of this violence has been focused on the well protected neighbourhood of the capital city, Imphal. Manipur has a 14,000 strong police force (both armed and civil) - the third strongest in the region behind Assam and Nagaland - four India Reserve Battalions (IRB), as well as very strong contingents of the Army and para-military forces, with a large proportion of this force dedicated to the protection of the state capital and its inhabitants.
However, it is the capital city along with the twin districts of Imphal East
and Imphal West that have already witnessed 56 of the 132 militancy related
incidents in 2005. Militants of different groups have been able to lob grenades,
extort money and shoot at police personnel and civilians in the capital and in
its vicinity, and have demonstrated fairly dramatically that not even the
'saturated' capital city is adequately secured; the state's control over the
other Valley districts could hardly be better.
Nevertheless, while linking the SF's 'synchronised onslaught' with the United National Liberation Front's (UNLF) February 2, 2005, call for a peace process with the government of India may not be a good idea, the fact that a militant group known for its obstinate stand against any negotiated resolution of the conflict has finally broken its silence reflects definite shifts in the prevailing scenario. The UNLF has mooted a four-point proposal to bring the 'Indo-Manipur conflict' to a logical conclusion:
- 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.
- Deployment of a UN peace- keeping force in Manipur to ensure the process is free and fair.
- Surrender of arms by the UNLF to the UN force, matched with the withdrawal of Indian troops.
- Handing over of political power by the UN in accordance with the results of the plebiscite.
While these terms make nonsense of the proposal and would be rejected out of
hand by Delhi, they are in keeping with a standing convention in the region for
militant groups to set out with such extreme demands, and then to barter each
element of such an immoderate position against significant advantages for the
group and its leadership at the negotiating table. The offer of a negotiated
settlement by an obdurately violent group like the UNLF is, consequently, a
significant movement forward.
The Revolutionary People's Front (RPF), the 'political wing' of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), has also come out with a statement that appeared to suggest qualified approval of the UNLF's move. RPF 'president' Irengbam Chaoren stated, "We will be watching how New Delhi reacts to the UNLF central committee's proposal as well as the latter's next move." Delhi is still to respond, though reports suggest that it is 'examining' the Chief Minister's plea to consider the proposals with urgency.
SF operations and peace offers notwithstanding, militants in Manipur still continue to issue diktats and also appear to be able to secure substantial obedience on their decrees. This is the case, not only with the directives of the better known groups who are known to have perfected the act, such as the Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), but even fringe outfits such as the Manipur Human Rights Protection Guild (MHRPG) and the United Socialist Revolutionary Army (USRA).
Thus, apart from the continuation of its 'drive' against the 'corrupt'
education system, a campaign which has targeted a number of officials, teachers
and students, and which enjoys a certain measure of popular support from the
people, the KYKL has also put a ban on 'cabin restaurants' which it has
described as a 'major factor in the moral degeneration of our society' as they
facilitate 'immoral' promiscuity among boys and girls. On at least two
occasions, owners and workers in such restaurants have been shot at by the
outfit's cadres for violating the order.
Incidents of extortion also remain at an alarmingly high level. Unidentified terrorists shot at and injured Th. Kulachandra, Principal of the Manipur Institute of Technology-Takyelpat, at Mongsangei in the Imphal West district on March 2 after he failed to meet an extortion demand for Rs. 500,000. The MHRPG orchestrated an attack on the Japanese-funded sericulture project office in Bamon Leikai in Imphal East District. Reports suggest that the attack was carried out for the non-payment of 'taxes' which the outfit had imposed on the officials associated with the project.
The non-descript People's United Liberation Front (PULF), through a notification on February 18 and a subsequent attack on a vehicle, managed to stop all transport for four consecutive days along the important Imphal-Moreh road, hailed as one of the future trade routes between India's Northeast and South East Asia. The PULF action was the result of the transporters' failure to accede to its repeated 'requests' for 'payment of tax'.
The United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF), through a press note on January 15, had demanded that the Irrigation and Flood Control Department should clear their 'annual departmental taxes' before January 23. The response of the department is not known. However, past practices reveal that resistance to such diktats has been infrequent.
An insight into an ingenious method of 'taxation' came to light with the
arrest of 16 transport agency proprietors by the Imphal West district police, on
March 8. These proprietors had purchased government taxation forms (Sales Tax
form no. 35 & 36) from the KYKL, at a price of Rupees 500,000 each and had
managed to evade paying tax to the government. Inquiries revealed that the KYKL
had forced two taxation officers to put their signatures on copies of such
forms, and these were later 'sold' to the transporters.
Nevertheless, Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh seems encouraged by recent SF 'successes'. On March 10, on the occasion of the surrender of two militants - an event of great rarity in the state, though commonplace in other conflict theatres in the region - the Chief Minister asked for a better 'rehabilitation package' that could help bring more and more militants back into the mainstream. The Chief Minister said, "The government's surrender policy has to be revamped so as to make it a more comprehensive one, and to ensure proper rehabilitation of surrendered militants." Previously, on March 7, the Chief Minister also claimed to have received positive signals from two other militant organisations (whom he chose not to identify) regarding peace talks with the government.
Regrettably, however, given current ground realities, the increasing levels of violence in the state, as well as the rising demonstration of public dissatisfaction - both with the political leadership and sections of the SFs - any optimism regarding the resolution of the multiplicity of insurgencies in Manipur in the foreseeable future would be altogether misplaced
Bibhu Prasad Routray is Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management.
Courtesy, the South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism
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