Leimakhong (Manipur) | An early solution to the insurgency problem in Manipur is difficult given its complexity due to the multiplicity of militant groups and their different sets of demands, a senior Army officer has said.
There are around 30 insurgent outfits, many of them splinter groups with different secessionist demands, while Naga groups, including the NSCN(I-M) and proscribed NSCN(K) are seeking ‘Nagalim’ or greater Nagaland, said Major General V K Mishra, GOC of 57 Mountain Division, involved in anti-insurgency operations in the state.
These apart, 16 Kuki organisations are seeking a separate state for themselves and eight groups of the United People’s Front, which is demanding a separate hill state within the territory of Manipur. “The presence of so many groups adds to the complexity. You may reach out, but to whom?” the Army official said, talking to visiting journalists recently. “Given the complexity of the problem, it may take longer to achieve a solution,” he said. “There are four major constituents in the problems affecting the state insurgency, ethnic issues, criminal activities and drugs,” Mishra said.
He said the Army and other security forces, including the Assam Rifles, are doing their best to weed out insurgency from the state. “Our attempt is to remove this fear among people,” he said when asked about people being afraid to complain on receiving extortion calls from the insurgents.
Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh has invited the insurgent groups for talks but the major outfits are yet to respond, a state government official said. Some of the minor groups have expressed willingness to sit for talks, but there has not been much response from the bigger ones, he said.
Stating that the hills and valley were divided, Singh said the state government has taken initiative to close this gap. “Earlier, MLAs from the valley could not go to the hills, but I asked them to go to the hills. There must be trust,” he said.
United National Liberation Front (UNLF) was the first militant outfit to be founded in the valley areas with separatist goals and is at present one of the most active in the state. The other major separatist outfits are People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and People Liberation Army (PLA). While KYKL seeks a perfect Manipuri society, the Kuki Revolutionary Army seeks a separate state for the Kuki tribe. There are several other smaller outfits and groups with different objectives active in the north-eastern state.
Added to this is the divide between the hill people and the dwellers in the valley. The Kuki militant outfits signed a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the government in 2008 and around 1,800 cadres of these groups are housed in 13 SoO camps. “The geography and location of Manipur itself has lot of implications,” Maj Gen Mishra said.
The state has an area of 22,000 square km, of which 1,843 km are valley area situated at the centre, while the rest are hills surrounding the valley. Nearly 60 percent of the population of the state live in the valley area, while the rest are spread in the sparsely populated hills. Of those living in the valley, over 66 percent belong to the Meitei ethnic group.
The hills are inhabited mainly by different Naga and Kuki tribes.
On October 31, Universal Friendship Organisation (UFO) held a rally in Imphal for unity and territorial integrity of Manipur, while Naga organisations held a blockade in the hills on the same day in opposition. Economic blockades by different organisations have also affected the state over time.
The Naga Council had resorted to a 139-day economic blockade of two national highways NH102 and NH37 from November 1, 2016. It ended on March 19, 2017.