By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On May 23, 2021, the Assam Police and Assam Rifles, in a joint operation, killed eight Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA) militants in an encounter in the Dhansiri area of Karbi Anglong District. Some slain cadres were identified as Amarjeet aka Rounder, Nikhen aka Dhadkan, Balnes aka Zingdao, Pritam aka Nawa, Action Dimasa, and Joreng Dimasa aka Tamil. Two of the slain militants remained unidentified at the time of writing. One Assam Rifles trooper was injured in the encounter.
Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma declared, “almost the entire DNLA group has been eliminated today.”
Earlier, on March 20, 2021, Police killed a DNLA militant, identified as Black Dimasa, in an encounter at Purana Hajong village in Dima Hasao District.
DNLA announced its formation on April 15, 2019, with an aim to establish ‘independent Dimasa self-rule’ in areas supposedly comprising the Dimasa inhabited areas of Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao Districts.
DNLA is led by its ‘chairman’ Naisodao Dimasa. Other prominent leaders include ‘army chief’, Minom Phonglosa aka Gajaw Dimasa; ‘information Secretary’, Ringsmai Dimasa; and ‘home secretary’, Kharmindao Dimasa. The estimated strength varies widely. A militant, Babu Hojai, who surrendered on September 17, 2019, claimed that DNLA had a cadre strength of 90 militants.
The outfit, however, seems to have lost steam before making any significant gains on the ground. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since its formation on April 15, 2019, the DNLA has lost 36 cadres (data till May 30, 2021). 11 cades of these have been killed in five incidents. 12 DNLA militants, including ‘army chief’ Minom Phonglosa, have been arrested and 13 cadres have surrendered during this period. Of the 11 DNLA militants killed, 10 were killed in Karbi Anglong and one in Dima Hasao.
On the other hand, DNLA has been involved in only two incidents of killing resulting in three fatalities, all civilians (data till May 30, 2021). Both these incidents took place in 2021:
May 19,2021: DNLA militants killed Sanjoy Ronghang, a priest, in the Dhansiri Police outpost area of Karbi Anglong District.
January 27, 2021: DNLA militants shot dead two civilians, a former militant leader Amit Nunisa and Alta Maibongsa, in the Dhansiri area of Karbi Anglong District.
On March 3, 2021, SFs arrested a suspected DNLA militant, Pinak Sutradhar aka Biju Sutradhar, at the Diphu Railway Station in Karbi Anglong District, before he could carry out explosion.
Reports indicate that DNLA is being supported by a section of National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) as part of a proxy force in the Hill Districts of Assam. The outfits have acted together on at least one occasion. The Hill Districts include West Karbi Anglong, Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao.
On February 27, 2020, suspected DNLA militants opened fire at a vehicle belonging to a road construction company in the Mailoo area under Langting Police Station in Dima Hasao District. However, there was no report of any casualty in the incident. Authorities believe that NSCN-IM militants also were involved.
The only other violent incident involving the outfit was reported on April 18,2019, when suspected DNLA militants exploded a grenade in front of the house of a businessman, Anil Gupta, at Bakaliaghat in Karbi Anglong District.
Interestingly, on June 3, 2020, Assam Director General of Police Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta and DNLA leaders had met in Diphu in Karbi Anglong District, to discuss peace. The meeting was also attended by Inspector General of Police (IGP) of Special branch (SB) Hiren Nath and the then Karbi Anglong Superintendent of Police Debojit Deori. Unnamed sources had then told media that if discussions were acted on, all the members of the outfit would lay down their arms and join the mainstream on August 15, 2020.
Later on, January 10, 2021, DNLA representatives attended a meeting called by Chief Executive Member (CEM) of Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council Tuiliram Ronghang, Member of Parliament (MP) from the Diphu Parliamentary Seat Horen Sing Bey, and Superintendent of Police Deori, in Diphu. Though no details are available, this meeting is thought to be a part of efforts to bring all the groups operating in the Hill Districts to the talks table prior to the 2021 State Assembly Elections, which were conducted in three phases on March 27, April 1 and April 6, 2021.
Indeed, on February 23, 2021, at least 1,050 militants from five outfits – Karbi People’s Liberation Tiger (KPLT), People’s Democratic Council of Karbi Longri (PDCK), Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Kuki Liberation Front (KLF) and United People’s Liberation Army (UPLA) – active in Karbi Anglong, surrendered before the then Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. Over 300 weapons and 11,203 bullets were surrendered by these militants. Though an agreement with these groups is yet to be signed, Chief Minster (CM), Himanta Biswa Sarma asserted, on May 24, 2021,
We’re trying for peace through development in Karbi Anglong also. Shortly, we’re going to sign a peace agreement with the rebels there.
The CM made this statement a day after the DNLA suffered the big loss, hoping that this would put pressure on the outfit to join the talks process.
However, according to a May 23, 2021, an unnamed Army officer stated,
The DNLA’s cadre strength is low after a few setbacks because of intensified operations. But the group has been creating trouble in certain pockets of Karbi Anglong as well as adjoining Dima Hasao District.
Though DNLA has been weakened considerably, a complete neutralization of the threat can only be secured through constant pressure to ensure that the group is prevented from any successful revival.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management