ISSN 2330-717X

India: Volatility Persists In Chandel, Manipur – Analysis

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By Nijeesh N.*

On December 15, 2016, at least three Manipur Police personnel were killed and another 11 were injured when suspected militants ambushed road opening parties (ROPs) of the Manipur Police at two different places in Chandel District. The first ambush occurred at around 6 am [IST] near the Lokchao Bridge in Lokchao village. Two Police constables were killed and 11 were wounded. M-79 grenade launcher shells and spent bullets of M-16 assault rifles were recovered from the ambush site. Around two hours later, a Police team coming from the State capital, Imphal, was attacked in the Bongyang area of the same District, and one Policeman on ROP duty was killed. Though no outfit has claimed the attacks so far, based on a report filed by State Director General of Police (DGP) L.M. Khaute, the Manipur Government sent a report to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on December 16, 2016, stating that the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) was suspected to be behind the twin attacks. Chandel District shares a border with Myanmar.

Earlier on November 26, 2016, at least five troopers of the Army’s Para Special Force deployed along the Manipur-Myanmar border sustained serious injuries when militants ambushed a patrol party in the Sajik Tampak area in Chandel District. Though the soldiers retaliated, all the militants managed to escape across the border, taking advantage of the densely forested area. The United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWESEA), claimed responsibility for the attack. For a long time the Sajik Tampak area, which is close to the Myanmar border, was the ‘headquarters’ of several insurgent groups, but Security Forces (SFs) had eventually pushed them out and established a permanent camp. On April 17, 2015, the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) joined hands with three of the most active terror outfits in the Northeast: the Independent faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I); IK Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-IKS); and Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), to form UNLFWESEA. CorCom [Coordination Committee], a conglomerate of six Manipur Valley-based militant outfits have also reportedly extended ‘moral support’ to the Front.

On October 29, 2016, a non-local shopkeeper, Dharmendra Kumar aka Aju (40), was shot dead by unidentified militants in the Moreh area of Chandel District. The deceased’s pregnant wife, Chanda, was also severely injured in the firing. Police said they suspected that the attack was part of a possible extortion bid.

Chandel Distinct had witnessed a major attack on SFs on May 22, 2016, when six Assam Rifles (AR) personnel, including one Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), were killed, and another seven personnel were injured in an ambush at Hengshi village in the Chakpikarong tehsil (revenue unit) of the District. The militants had triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) before opening fire on the AR convoy, which was returning to their Battalion Headquarters at Joupi village in Chakpikarong tehsil of Chandel District, after assessing a landslide in Holingjang. The militants took away four AK-47 rifles, one light machine gun, one INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle and ammunition from the SFs. Notably, on June 4, 2015, in one of the worst militant attacks targeting SFs’ in the entire Northeast, 18 Army personnel had been killed and another 11 injured, when militants ambushed a convoy of 46 troopers of the Army’s 6 Dogra Regiment at Moltuk village (just about 30 kilometers away from Hengshi village) in the Khengjoy tehsil of the Chandel District.

Insurgency-related Incidents in Chandel District: 2000-2016*
Year
Civilian Fatalities
SFs Fatalities
Terrorists Fatalities
Total Killed
Incidents of Explosion
Incidents of Abduction
Incidents of Arms Recovery
Incidents of Arrest
Incidents of Surrender

2000

0
0
6
6
0
0
0
0
0

2001

3
1
0
4
0
0
0
0
0

2002

0
2
12
14
0
1
0
1
0

2003

0
2
10
12
0
1
0
0
0

2004

3
25
3
31
0
0
0
2
0

2005

3
5
2
10
0
0
0
0
0

2006

6
5
22
33
4
1
4
0
0

2007

22
26
39
87
4
1
8
2
1

2008

9
4
17
30
6
0
10
1
0

2009

1
16
42
59
1
0
26
5
0

2010

1
12
0
13
8
1
4
5
0

2011

0
0
1
1
4
0
5
24
1

2012

7
3
3
13
2
2
19
31
0

2013

2
3
1
6
8
0
2
20
2

2014

0
2
0
2
5
1
21
31
1

2015

2
21
6
29
7
2
7
20
1

2016

2
9
0
11
8
1
7
5
0

Total

61
136
164
361
57
11
113
147
6
Source: SATP, *Data till December 18, 2016.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 11 persons, including two civilians and nine SF personnel, have been reported killed in insurgency-related incidents in the Chandel District during the current year (data till December 18, 2016). During the corresponding period of 2015, the District had recorded 29 fatalities (two civilians, 21 SF personnel and six militants). There were no more fatalities in 2015 thereafter. It was in the year 2007 that the District had recorded its highest number of fatalities, 87, including 22 civilians, 26 SF personnel and 39 militants.

One of the five Hill Districts of Manipur, Chandel was formed on May 13, 1974, and covers an area of 3,313 square kilometers in the south-eastern part of the State. Formerly known as Tengnoupal District, the District Headquarters was shifted to Chandel in 1983, and the District was subsequently renamed Chandel. It is the fourth largest District of Manipur, bordering Myanmar on the south, Ukhrul District on the east, Churachandpur District on the south and west, and Thoubal District to the north. With a population of 144,182 (2011 Census), Chandel is the second least populous District in the State, after Tamenglong. Around 86 per cent of the total population of the District is tribal, 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 Meiteis including Muslims (Meitei Pangal) in small numbers. Nearly 88 per cent of the population lives in a total of 361 villages. Moreh town, the international trade centre of the State, lies on the southernmost part of the District.

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. A significant proportion of the blame for the state of affairs goes to the raging militancy in the District. The proximity of the District to Myanmar, which has been used by various insurgent groups as a safe haven for years, has been the bane of Chandel. These militant outfits frequent the District en route to and from Myanmar, where they have their camps. Major insurgent groups such as NSCN-IM, NSCN-K, ULFA-I, People’s Liberation Army (PLA), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), are the most active in the District, as these outfits have been able to establish mobile camps with very efficient informer networks in the hills of Western Myanmar. According to recent reports, an estimated 2,000 cadres belonging to a dozen outfits have taken shelter in Myanmar.

The entire area along the India-Myanmar border, including Chandel District, has been witnessing deadly militant attacks on SFs in the recent past and remains volatile. According to partial data compiled by SATP, between January 1, 2000, and December 18, 2016, there have been at least 751 fatalities, including 130 civilians, 182 SF personnel and 439 militants, in 10 Districts, spread across the four northeastern States [Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, and Nagaland] of India that shares borders with Myanmar. Worryingly, Chandel District is the worst affected, accounting for 361 fatalities (61 civilians, 136 SF personnel and 164 militants) over this period.

The Indian Army had carried out ‘surgical operations’ inside Myanmar after the June 4, 2015, Chandel attack and reportedly killed several insurgents in different militant camps. Nevertheless, vulnerabilities along the border persist. On August 19, 2016, Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju stated that India had requested Nyapyidaw to take action against insurgent groups taking shelter in Myanmar: “There are reports of some leaders of insurgent outfits from the north east taking shelter in Myanmar and we are in constant talks with the Government of that country requesting them to take action against them.” Further, on September 5, 2016, a report claimed that New Delhi had started supplying advanced weaponry and gadgets to the Myanmar Army to enable it to set up its military headquarters close to areas occupied by the militant groups.

While its proximity to Myanmar Border has made Chandel vulnerable to insurgent activities for long, recent developments have added to its susceptibilities. Thus, in the evening of October 30, 2016, the State Government decided to upgrade the Sub-divisions of Sadar Hills and Jiribam to full-fledged Districts. The Government subsequently reversed its decision on October 31, 2016, as it was opposed by the Naga organisations who felt that the upgrade would help form more Kuki-dominated Districts in the State. The United Naga Council (UNC) – the apex body of the Naga community in Manipur – had launched an indefinite economic blockade from November 1, 2016, which is still in force. Stringent measures to lift the ongoing blockade as early as possible are urgently required, as the current situation has the potential to adversely impact the security situation across the Northeast region.

In the meantime, on December 8, 2016, the State Government announced the creation of seven new Districts – Kangpokpi, Noney, Tengnoupal, Pherzol, Kamjong, Kakching, and Jiribam (partially reversing the earlier reversal of October 31). These seven new Districts were carved out of the earlier nine, including Chandel. Tengnoupal was carved out of Chandel and the formal inauguration was done on December 15, 2016, the day of the last attack. In fact the Police team that was targeted near Lokchao Bridge was heading for Tengnoupal, where State Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh was scheduled to attend the programme to inaugurate the new District. Despite the attack, the Chief Minister attended the programme.

As in the case of Manipur as a State, there has been relative improvement in the security situation in Chandel District. Nevertheless, the cyclical nature of violence in the District (and the State) remains a perpetual threat, sharply accentuated in Chandel as a result of the peculiar vulnerabilities arising from its shared borders with Myanmar, and the concentration of insurgent safe havens there.

*Nijeesh N.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management


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SATP

SATP

SATP, or the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) publishes the South Asia Intelligence Review, and is a product of The Institute for Conflict Management, a non-Profit Society set up in 1997 in New Delhi, and which is committed to the continuous evaluation and resolution of problems of internal security in South Asia. The Institute was set up on the initiative of, and is presently headed by, its President, Mr. K.P.S. Gill, IPS (Retd).

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