By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On June 2, 2019, Security Forces (SFs) arrested a top cadre of Yung Aung faction of Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K-Yung Aung), Yanghang aka Mopa, along with two other militants of the group, at Aboi in Mon District.
Inspector General (IG) of the Assam Rifles (AR), Major General P.C. Nair disclosed, “These people have been instrumental in many brutal and heinous crimes including the killing of two Assam Rifles soldiers recently…”
On May 25, two AR troopers were killed and four others sustained injuries when suspected NSCN-K- Yung Aung militants attacked an AR patrol near Changlangshu village in Mon District. The militants triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and simultaneously opened gunfire on the AR personnel.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), these two troopers are the only fatalities in the Mon District in the current year (data till July 7, 2019).
During the corresponding period of 2018, the District recorded three fatalities (all troopers). Through 2018 there were six fatalities (three troopers and three militants).
There were five fatalities (one civilian, one trooper and three militants) through 2017. No fatality was recorded in 2016, but the number of fatalities stood at 11 (one civilian, eight SF personnel and two militants) in 2015.
According to the SATP database, since March 6, 2000, Mon District has recorded a total of 140 fatalities (seven civilians, 14 SF personnel and 116 militants) in a total of 36 incidents of killing (data till July 7, 2019).
The highest number of civilian fatalities in a year was recorded in 2005, while the maximum number of SF personnel (eight) were killed 2015. The highest militant fatality was recorded in 2000, when 71 rebels were killed.
Fatalities in Mon District: 2000*-2019**
|Year||Incidents of Killing||Civilians||Security Forces||Terrorists||NS||Total||Overall Nagaland||Percentage of killings in Mon|
|Data since March 6, 2000, ** Data till July 7, 2019, Source: SATP|
Out of Nagaland’s 12 Districts, Mon (140 fatalities since March 6, 2000) is the 2nd worst affected in terms of insurgency-linked fatalities, with Dimapur (239 fatalities) occupying the ‘leading position’. Mon is followed by Kohima (122 fatalities), Zunheboto (80), Tuensung (71), Phek (45), Paren (31), Wokha (29), Mokokchung (26) and Kiphere (13). No fatality has been recorded in Noklak and Longleng District. Mon accounted for 23 per cent of total fatalities in the State.
Fatalities in Mon District peaked at 74 in 2000 (71 militants and three civilians), but declined sharply thereafter, till 2004, and then surged marginally between 2005 and 2007. The District recorded a fatality each year between 2008 and 2013, barring 2012, when four persons were killed. No fatality was recorded in 2014.
The District saw a sudden spike in violence in 2015 (11 fatalities), as NSCN-K, the most violently active group in the District, on March 31, 2019, announced a unilateral abrogation of the ceasefire agreement (CFA) signed by it on April 28, 2001. Though no fatality was recorded in 2016, the number of fatalities rose to five in 2017 and further, to six in 2016. 2019 has already recorded two fatalities. Other parameters of violence also indicate increases. Five out of six incidents of explosion in the District have been recorded after 2015, with two occurring in 2019.
Almost at the same time, the militant conglomerate United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWESA) came into prominence, mostly targeting SFs. All the 14 SF fatalities recorded in the District have occurred after 2015 onwards, since NSCN-K abrogated the CFA.
Mon, with an area of 1,786 square kilometres, is bounded in the North by the Sibsagar District of Assam; by the Tirap District of Arunachal Pradesh in the North East; by Myanmar in the South East; and the Tuensang and Longleng Districts of Nagaland in the South. The District can topographically be divided into two regions – the Upper Region (Longching, Chen, Mopong and Tobu) and the Lower Region (Mon, Tizit and Naginimora). The foothills lie adjacent to the plains of Assam (Tizit and Naginimora areas). The hill ranges extend from the foothills to the slopes of Naga Hills and Patkai Range in the Eastern side of the District. Mon District shares a 130-kilometre long International border with Myanmar.
The insurgents have always sought to take advantage of Mon’s strategic location. According to a 2017 report, the United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) has established a camp at Hakiyot in Myanmar’s Sagiang region, located just opposite the Mon District, to facilitate militant ingress.
Mon is home to the Konyaks, who are numerically the largest tribe in Nagaland. The Konyaks along with five other tribal groups – the Chang, Phom, Khiamniungan, Yimchunger Sangtam – have long demanded the creation of a ‘Frontier Nagaland’. Significantly, the numerical dominance of the tribe is a major factor for the selection of leadership in various Naga militant groups. One of the factions of the NSCN-K, the NSCN-K-Khango Konyak, is led by Khango Konyak, of the Konyak tribe. Further, Tongmeth Wangnao Konyak is the newly appointed ‘vice-chairman’ of the rival Isak Muivah faction of the NSCN (NSCN-IM). Tongmeth Wangnao Konyak has replaced Kholi Konyak who died in 2018. Kholi Konyak had joined NSCN-IM in 2016 and became its ‘vice-chairman’. Before joining NSCN-IM, he was leading the Kholi Khitovi faction of the NSCN (NSCN-KK). M.B. Neokpao Konyak, who replaced Kholi Konyak in NSCN-KK as its new ‘chairman’ in 2017, is also a Konyak. Similarly, Y. Wangtin Naga, ‘president’ of the Reformation faction of NSCN (NSCN-R), belongs to the Konyak tribe.
Meanwhile, concerned over the sudden spike in violence in the wider region along the India-Myanmar Border, which has emerged as the last remaining ‘hub of militant activities’ in India’s Northeast, SFs of Myanmar launched several operations in recent past, in cooperation with Indian SFs. Most of these operations have been in the areas in and around the Mon and Tuensung Districts of Nagaland and Arunachal’s Changlang, Tirap and Longding Districts. During these Operations, Indian SFs also increased vigilance along these borders.
Myanmarese SFs launched two-phase Operations in 2019 – February 17 to March 2 and May 16 to June 8 – against NSCN-K and other Indian Insurgent Groups (IIG)s in Myanmar, which seemingly crippled IIGs based in Myanmar.
Under pressure, five National Democratic Front of Bodoland-Saoraigwra (NDFB-S) militants were arrested from Chenmoho village in Mon District on February 16, 2019. According to SATP, at least 129 militants have been arrested in the District since March 6, 2000 (data till July 6, 2019). On March 24, 2019, the ‘foreign secretary’ of NDFB-S, Ne Esera Evangel, along with his body guard ‘lance corporal’ R. Mwnthwr, surrendered in Mon District.
Closer Security cooperation with Myanmar has dealt a significant blow to the insurgent movements in the wider Northeast region, including Mon. The weakening of NSCN-K has also had an impact on militant activities in the region, and in Mon. NSCN-K ‘founding chairman’ S.S. Khaplang died on June 9, 2017. Soon thereafter, the Khaplang faction split into two – one led by the Myanmar-based Yung Aung, and another led by India-based Khango Konyak. The Khango Konyak faction (NSCN-K-Khango Konyak) signed a CFA with the Union Government on April 28, 2019, for one year. The CFA with another major Naga group active in the District – the Reformation faction (NSCN-R) – was initially signed on April 27, 2015, and was most recently renewed on April 28, 2019.
Nevertheless, the threat to peace in Mon continues, and additional measures need to be taken to consolidate the gains of the recent past. Indeed, on December 13, 2019, a parliamentary committee on Working Conditions in Border Guarding Forces, examined the dual role of conducting counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast and guarding the Indo-Myanmar border, which is now done by AR, and recommended that these must be performed by two separate Forces. The report stated further,
Due to the threat of insurgent groups on the movement of troops, there is a requirement of deployment in a grid pattern to secure the lines of communication. The task of border guarding is further complicated due to the lack of special powers being given to AR.
AR, which presently guards the Indo-Myanmar border operates under the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, and, the report noted, is increasing its “presence” and “occupying additional locations” to curb trans-border crimes.
Crucially, the fencing of the Indo-Myanmar border has not been done yet because of the difficult terrain as well as the unique arrangements for population movements across the border under the Free Movement Regime (FMR). On January 16, 2019, Lieutenant General M.M. Naravane, Chief of the Army’s Eastern Command, noted, “I won’t even say that it (border fencing between India and Myanmar) is in the pipeline… it [fencing] was under consideration… we will have to see how it pans out”.
There is also a need to keep tight vigil in the District, as Mon has emerged as a crucial launching ground for IIGs coming from Myanmar. The much-abused FMR, which is applicable along the Indo-Myanmar District, must be implemented with all alertness. FMR allows resident tribals along the border to move up to 16 kilometers across the boundary without restrictions, and tribals are permitted to carry headloads across the border.
The focus of sustained CI operations in the Mon District will have to continue till the entire Indo-Myanmar border is secured, and the insurgent formations operating across the international boundary are effectively neutralized.
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management