By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
Sehkholen, a leader of a breakaway faction of the Kuki National Front-Presidential (KNF-P) and one of his associates are reported to have been killed in an inter-factional gunfight at a secluded location between Leikot and Phaijang villages under Saparmeina Police Station in the Senapati District of Manipur on November 21, 2015.
On November 19, 2015, two militants were killed in a reported clash between the United Tribal Liberation Army led by Kam Robert Singson (UTLA-Robert) and the UTLA faction led by S.K. Thadou in the interior areas of Laikot, a Kuki village, under the Nungba Police Station limits in Manipur’s Tamenglong District. On November 20, the Thadou faction of UTLA clarified that the reported gun fight was between UTLA (Robert) and Kuki National Organisation (KNO) cadres and UTLA (Thadou) was not involved. Thadou asserted that his outfit had not engaged in any violence since it entered into a tripartite agreement with the Government in 2013. UTLA, a Kuki militant, was formed in 2002 and underwent a split in 2011. While the Thadou faction entered into a tripartite agreement in 2013, the Robert faction ‘surrendered’ on March 27, 2012.
With multiple factions operating, factional clashes among the militant formations in Manipur have always been a significant aspect of violence in the State. In fact, Manipur Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam, speaking at the 124th Raising Day of the Manipur Police in Imphal on October 19, 2015, observed that there were more than 40 insurgent groups operating in the State. Praising the Police, he added that Manipur Police had earned a “great reputation” in dealing with the difficult situation, including both the containment of the insurgency as well as complex day-to-day law and order problems. Referring to the militant groups and factions, Gaikhangam noted that, apart from the violence of underground outfits and their numerous frontal organizations, small groups of armed mercenaries were also resorting to abduction for ransom, extortion and other unlawful activities.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Manipur has recorded at least 20 incidents of factional clashes in 2015 (as of December 6), resulting in 30 fatalities; as against 14 incidents involving 15 fatalities in 2014; 16 incidents with 16 fatalities in 2013; 13 incidents with 27 fatalities in 2012; and six incidents with 12 fatalities in 2011.
The State witnessed three major incidents (each involving three or more killings) of factional clash in 2015, as against one such incident in 2014; one in 2013; three in 2012; and two in 2011. Some of the significant incidents include:
August 10, 2015: Three decomposed bodies of suspected militants of the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) were found in a jungle between Purul and Sirong village in Senapati District. The bodies were identified to be those of Francis, Veihriizii and John. Police suspected that they may have been shot dead three to four days earlier, by a rival faction.
May 22, 2015: Five suspected militants of NSCN-K were killed in a factional clash with suspected cadres of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), at Lungsaimai village in Tamenglong District. The clash occurred when NSCN-K militants launched an attack on NSCN-IM cadres.
February 10, 2015: Three persons, identified as Jongkholun, Manglensei and Sotinpai, were killed in Churachandpur District by suspected militants. The bodies were recovered near Vaison Cemetery in the District. Sontinpai was a militant of the Kuki Independent Organisation /Kuki Independent Army (KIO/ KIA) and five ‘demand letters’ (extortion notices) to be delivered by him were recovered from his body.
July 25, 2014: Bodies of three suspected Kuki National Liberation Army (KNLA) militants were recovered from two locations in Churachandpur District. The body of Seikholun Haokip was recovered from a location near Silemat village, those of Paothansang Vaiphei and Paolal-muon were recovered from a location between Saikul and Thingchom village, along the Khuga Canal in the same District. According to Police, the militants were killed by a rival faction.
November 12, 2013: Three militants were reportedly killed and one injured in a five hour gun-battle between NSCN-IM and Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) cadres near Bhalok village in Tamenglong District. Police sources disclosed that the three deceased belonged to ZUF and added that one NSCN-IM cadre was injured. NSCN-IM also confirmed that the three deceased hailed from ZUF. According to NSCN-IM leaders, ZUF cadres launched attacks on NSCN-IM cadres from two sides at a hillock near Bhalok village.
A cursory review of available data [2011-2015] indicates that Naga outfits, viz. ZUF, NSCN-K and NSCN-IM, have contributed overwhelmingly to the factional clashes in the State. Some of the other factions involved include the United National Liberation Front (UNLF); Nehlun faction of the Kuki National Front (KNF-N); KNF-P; Kuki National Front-Zougam (KNF-Z); Hmar People’s Convention – Democracy (HPC-D); Kuki Revolutionary Army-Unification (KRA-U); United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF); UTLA-S.K Thadou, UTLA-Robert and KNO.
Interestingly, while there has been just one clash between a Naga and a Kuki outfit, several incidents are either among Naga outfits or among Kuki outfits, suggesting that these are principally turf-wars. Clashes among Naga outfits have been the most violent: out of a total of 69 incidents, Nagas have been involved in 37, resulting in 47 fatalities. Kuki outfits have been identified in 23 incidents resulting in 22 fatalities. Nine incidents of factional clashes have seen the involvement of either other groups or unspecified groups. In terms of number of incidents, the involvement of Kuki outfits has increased since 2013 [one in 2011; zero in 2012; 8 in 2013; 4 in 2014; 10 in 2015].
Manipur also recorded an increase in the number of extortion and abduction incidents registered during the current year. 45 extortion cases were reported during 2015 (data till December 6, 2015), as compared to 29 for the corresponding period in 2014 [actual incidence is likely to be much higher as a significant number of cases go unreported]. An October 29, 2015, media report indicated that NSCN-IM was allegedly charging INR 2,000 every month from each Government employee working in the Chandel District Headquarters.
There were at least 28 incidents of abduction registered in 2015 (data till December 6, 2015), with 50 persons abducted; in 2014, 31 incidents resulting in 47 abductions are on record.
According to SATP data, Manipur has recorded a total of 92 fatalities, including 16 civilians, 24 Security Force (SF) personnel and 52 militants in 2015 (data till December 6) which is the highest among States in the Northeast this year.
An October 6, 2015, report claimed that a series of developments in the Northeast, especially in Manipur, since the August Peace Accord between the Centre and the Naga rebel group NSCN-IM, had raised serious concerns that the security situation in the region could dramatically worsen in the coming months. According to sources in the security agencies, the NSCN-IM has probably set up a training camp in Manipur, has already recruited a few hundred new cadres, and is contributing to possible new flare-ups in inter-tribe tensions in this fragile State. Media reports further suggest that, since the August 3, 2015, Naga Peace Accord, reports of extortion, arms and drugs smuggling have registered a rising trend in Manipur. An unnamed official was quoted as stating, “Most of it is being done by I-M (NSCN-IM) cadres.” Other sources have confirmed that the outfit may already have set up new camps in the Manipur Hills to accommodate fresh cadres recruited since the Peace Accord. One official claimed that about 400 Nagas may have been recruited by the NSCN-IM in this period. There were also reports of the group recruiting new cadres from parts of eastern Nagaland. NSCN-IM is believed to have had about 2,500 cadres before the Peace Accord, and is believed to be targeting recruitment of another 1000 cadres, mostly from Manipur.
Manipur has a long history of multiple insurgencies and competing factions, as well as one of the worst insurgency-afflicted States in the Northeast. The rising trend in the proliferation of groups and factions, and the turf-wars between them, creates the spectre of increasing violence and a security situation that grows even more complex by the day.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management