By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
Suspected militants of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) attacked a combined team of the banned terror outfit People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Manipur Naga People’s Front (MNPF) at Makan village in Kamjong District near Border Pillar No, 8 along the Indo-Myanmar border, on September 12, 2017. NSCN-IM cadres killed five militants of the rival groups, identified as PLA ‘sergeant major’ Richard aka Wareppam Dinesh, PLA ‘sergeant’ Lalloi aka Khundrakpam Sunil, PLA ‘private’ Nanao aka Moirangthem Tomba, PLA ‘private’ Sinthouba aka Konjengbam Shyamsundar and MNPF cadre Raikham Jajo aka Nimai Jazo. The NSCN-IM militants took away the weapons of their slain rivals.
Dead bodies of four suspected Hmar Peoples’ Convention- Democratic (HPC-D) cadres were recovered from Barak River. While two bodies were recovered on June 26, 2017, another two bodies were recovered on June 27, 2017. According to reports, the deceased were shot dead by their fellow cadres at an unspecified place in Pherzawl District, on an undisclosed date, for their alleged involvement in a robbery incident which had taken place in the night of June 21, 2017, at Sivapukar in Pherzawl District.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 44 fatalities, including 19 civilians, six Security Force (SF) personnel, and 19 militants, have been reported from across Manipur in 2017 (data till September 17, 2017). The 10 Hill Districts accounted for 39 fatalities (15 civilians, five SF personnel and 19 militants) constituting 88.63 per cent of the total. Manipur comprises 16 Districts – 10 in the Hills, and six in the Valley region.
In the corresponding period of 2016, the State had recorded at least 27 fatalities, including 12 civilians, eight SF personnel, and seven militants. The five Hill Districts accounted for 17 of these fatalities (four civilians, seven SFs and six militants), i.e. 62.96 per cent of the total. Through 2016, the State recorded at least 33 fatalities; 23 (69.96 percent) in the 10 Hill Districts.
On December 8, 2016, the pre-existing five Hill Districts were bifurcated and new Districts were formed. Tamenglong District was divided into the Noney and Tamenglong; Churachandpur into Pherzawl and Churachandpur; Chandel into Tengnoupal and Chandel; Ukhrul into Kamjong and Ukhrul; and Senapati into Kangpokpi and Senapati. In Valley, two Districts – Imphal East and Thoubal – were bifurcated: Imphal East into Imphal East and Jiribam; Thoubal into Thoubal and Kakching. The remaining two Valley Districts are Bishenpur and Imphal West.
Significantly, while overall fatalities in the State, on year on year basis, are broadly following a declining trend since 2010, although with sharp spikes in 2012 and 2015, the share of violence in the Hill Districts has been increasing.
In the volatile Hill areas, there are now apprehensions of further danger. Reports indicate that the minority Rohingya Muslims under threat of Government Forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, could attempt to sneak into Manipur’s Hill areas. Chief Minister N. Biren Singh on September 9, 2017, thus observed, “The international border with Myanmar is porous and all steps have been taken to check any attempt to sneak into Manipur.” Five out of the 10 Hill Districts – Ukhrul, Churachandpur, Chandel, Tengnoupal and Kamjong – fall along the Indo-Myanmar border. Two (Churachandpur and Chandel) of these have contiguous border with Myanmar’s Chin State, which shares it borders with the Rakhine State. No District in Valley has contiguous borders with Myanmar.
The trouble in the Rakhine State escalated dramatically on August 25, 2017, when Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militants wielding sticks, knives and crude bombs carried out coordinated attacks on 30 Police Posts and an Army Base – killing one soldier, 10 Policemen, and one immigration officer. Subsequently, the military launched a counter-offensive and media reports indicate that at least 400 people, including at least 59 militants, have been killed since then, and nearly 380,000 Rohingyas have fled into Bangladesh.
Though there are no confirmed reports about the number of Rohingyas residing in Manipur, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh reportedly stated, on September 13, 2017, that there were at least 22 inmates from Myanmar, including 10 Rohingyas, in the Sajiwa Central Jail in Imphal East District, even after their jail terms had expired (date not specified). Reports stated that nine of the 10 imprisoned Rohingyas have been in prison since 2012, and one since 2014.
Any influx of Rohingya Muslims could further destabilize the situation in Manipur at a time when a Joint Committee on the Inner-Line Permit System (JCILPS), a civil society group, on September 4, 2017, had renewed the call for the Inner Line Permit (ILP) system to check the entry of “outsiders” into the State. JCILPS had first raised the demand for the ILP system in 2012.
Manipur has experienced the presence of armed Islamist militant outfits in past, though these secured minimal ‘success’. The People’s United Liberation Front (PULF), founded in 1993, was the most prominent among these. Though the group remains active, the last incident of violence it was found to be involved in was way back in 2013. On March 23, 2013, suspected PULF militants had set ablaze a private truck in the Yairipok area of Thoubal District. The truck owner P. Jiban Singh (32) testified that PULF militants had demanded money some months earlier. The militants hijacked the truck, which was en route to Machi village from Yairipok, on March 22, and the driver was let off. Other lesser known Islamic groups that once operated in Manipur include the Islamic Revolutionary Front (IRF), Islamic National Front (INF), United Islamic Liberation Army (UILA), and United Islamic Revolutionary Army (UIRA). Significantly, most of these groups were under SFs radar again in the aftermath of ethnic clashes between Bodos and Muslims in the Bodoland Territorial Administrated Districts (BTAD) of Assam and the adjoining District of Dhubri (also in Assam) in July 2012, in which at least 80 persons were killed. At that time, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), according to a August 7, 2012, report, had prepared a list of at least 19 Islamist outfits – 14 in Assam and five in Manipur – for their suspected involvement in violence. The five Manipur based groups included – PULF, IRF, INF, UILA, and UIRA, listed above.
Reports indicate that some measures to check any future influx have already been initiated. The media cited an unnamed official source on September 9, 2017, as stating, “The Police Headquarters alerted the Superintendent of Police of the border Districts two days ago, asking them to be on strict vigil to check influx of displaced Rohingya Muslims into Manipur. Police teams, led by respective Sub-divisional Police Officers and officers-in-charge of Police Stations, have been patrolling the border round-the-clock.” Reports also indicated that 46 suspected illegal migrants (not Rohingyas) were detained in the State between September 10, 2017, and September 13, 2017.
Tight vigil along the Indo- Myanmar border and sustained action against surviving militant formations would be necessary to deal with the evolving situation in Manipur, particularly in the Hill Regions.
* Giriraj Bhattacharjee
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management