India: An Unexpected Accord With UNLF In Manipur – Analysis


By Afsara Shaheen

On November 29, 2023, the Government of India (GoI) and Government of Manipur signed a Peace Agreement with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), in New Delhi.

A Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) release noted, “While political settlements have been finalised with several ethnic armed groups of the North East as part of conflict resolution initiatives of Government of India, it is for the first time a valley-based Manipuri armed group has agreed to return to mainstream by abjuring violence and agreeing to honour the Constitution of India and laws of the land. The agreement will not only bring an end to hostilities between UNLF and security forces which have claimed precious lives on both sides over the last more than half a century but also provide an opportunity to address the longstanding concerns of the community. It is hoped that the return of UNLF to the mainstream will also encourage other valley-based armed groups to participate in the peace process in due course. A Peace Monitoring Committee (PMC) will be constituted to oversee enforcement of the agreed ground rules. The development is likely to be a significant step in restoring peace and normalcy in the State.”

Just 10 days earlier, in a notification dated November 13, 2023, UMHA had extended the ban on valley-based Meitei Insurgent Groups, including UNLF, stating that these groups were “engaging in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India and employing and engaging in armed means to achieve their objectives.” 

Other Meitei rebel groups, include the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its political wing, the Revolutionary Peoples’ Front (RPF); UNLF’s armed wing, the Manipur Peoples’ Army (MPA); the Peoples’ Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and its armed wing, the “Red Army”; the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and its armed wing, also called the “Red Army”; the Kanglei Yaol Kanna Lup (KYKL); the umbrella Coordination Committee (CorCom); and the Alliance for Socialist Unity Kangleipak (ASUK). These organisations were banned for the first time on November 13, 2018. 

According to partial data compiled by South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), between March 6, 2000, when SATP started compiling data on insurgencies in the Northeast and November 29, 2023, when the peace deal with the UNLF was signed, Manipur recorded a total of 3,784 insurgency-linked fatalities, including 988 civilians, 463 Security Force (SF) personnel, 2,180 insurgents and 153 fatalities in the Not Specified (NS) category. Of the total of 3,784 fatalities, group identities could be established in 1,448 fatalities (194 civilians, 233 SF personnel, 979 insurgents and 42 NS), of which UNLF was found to be involved in 318 (30 civilians, 107 SF personnel, 179 militants and two NS), i.e. 21.96 per cent; followed by PREPAK, 229 (36 civilians, 18 SF personnel, 164 militants and 11 NS); PLA, 227 (28 civilians, 47 SF personnel, 147 militants and five NS); KCP, 193 (19 civilians, 162 militants and 12 NS); and KYKL, 156 (24 civilians, 29 SF personnel, 98 militants and five NS), all Meitei groups. There were 16 other insurgent groups active in the state who, together, were responsible for the remaining 325 fatalities (in which group identities could be established): two Meitei groups (19 fatalities), seven Kuki groups (132 fatalities), four Naga groups (149 fatalities), two Zomi groups (23 fatalities) and one Islamist group (two fatalities).

Thus, UNLF has been the deadliest among all the active insurgent groups in Manipur. 

UNLF, the oldest Valley-based insurgent group, formed under the leadership of Areambam Samrendra Singh on November 24, 1964, has a declared goal to establish an independent and socialist Manipur, a state which the UNLF alleges India “annexed” in 1949. In 1990, it decided to launch an armed struggle for the ‘liberation’ of Manipur from India. In the same year, it formed an armed wing, Manipur People’s Army  (MPA). The outfit maintained close ties with several other rebel groups in the Northeast, including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang group (NSCN-K), the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), and the Kuki National Army (KNA). It had its training camps in Manipur as well as in Myanmar and Bangladesh. Significantly, on November 25, 2023, a UNLF camp located in the upper Tamu township in Myanmar, approximately four kilometers from Moreh, India’s last border Town in Manipur’s Tengnoupal District, was raided and captured by a joint force of the Democratic Forces – Peoples Defence Force (PDF) and the Kuki National Army-Burma (KNA-Burma). The raid resulted in the confiscation of documents and a substantial cache of arms and ammunition. The UNLF camp had been established with the assistance of the Myanmar Junta in 2020.

Meanwhile, after Samarendra Singh was assassinated by unidentified militants in Imphal on June 10, 2001, the UNLF leadership was taken up by Rajkumar Meghen alias Sana Yaima, who was arrested in 2010. While Meghen was imprisoned, Khundongbam Pambei became ‘chairman’ of the outfit. Rajkumar Meghen, however, was released from Guwahati Central Jail in November 2019 after serving a decade-long sentence. Under Pambei, who was open to talks, the process to begin ceasefire negotiations started in 2020. Subsequently, in 2021, the UNLF split into two: one faction under the ‘chairmanship’ of Pambei and the other under the ‘chairmanship’ of N.C. Koireng. Reports in June 2023 claimed that Pambei was nabbed by the Myanmar Army while enroute to Thailand some five months earlier. Moirangthem Nongyai is now the ‘acting chairman’ of the faction and Chabungbam Thanil is the ‘general secretary’. On December 2, 2023, in response to allegations by the Koireng faction of compromising on Manipur’s sovereignty by signing the peace agreement, Nongyai stated that the agreement made no compromise on the demand for the ‘sovereignty of Manipur’, and made it clear that the outfit would not lay down its weapons until a solution regarding its demand for a “sovereign Manipur” is achieved. Nongyai stated, 

The Government of India has accepted the fact that Manipur was once a sovereign state. Since the Indian government has accepted these points, the UNLF has decided to sign the ceasefire agreement. We are not surrendering our weapons. So, do not think that we have sold away Manipur. We are yet to join the mainstream and if talks fail, we might still return to the jungle again.

The Koireng faction of UNLF, which is opposed to talks, had released a statement just after the peace deal, alleging that the Pambei faction had deviated from the ‘political principle’ of the UNLF by signing the peace pact, describing the peace agreement as a “death trap” and betrayal of the people. It stated that the GoI has never agreed to include the issue of ‘sovereignty and independence’ on the agenda of talks and said that this is the stand India government took on holding talks with National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and with the Pro-Talks faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-PTF), and this is precisely why the Independent faction of ULFA (ULFA-I) has not accepted talks with GoI till today. 

The UNLF underwent a formal split in the mid-1990s, when N. Oken broke away, to form KYKL.

While UMHA is withholding information about the number of militants surrendering, media reports indicate that up to 65 cadres of the faction led by K. Pambei have signed the peace accord. It is believed that these 65 cadres had entered Manipur from Myanmar during the recent ethnic unrest in the state.

UMHA hopes that, with the UNLF joining the peace process will “encourage other valley-based armed groups to participate in the peace process in due course”, but this may be a premature conclusion, particularly in view of the disorders that currently prevail in the state. Nevertheless, with UNLF seeking peace, a significant source of destabilization is likely to be contained, and is an important first step by a political class manifestly engaged in the politics of polarisation to resolve the multiple insurgencies that have long afflicted Manipur. 

  • Afsara Shaheen
    Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management


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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