By Nijeesh N.*
On December 14, 2016, Security Forces (SFs) killed two cadres of the Independent faction of United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA-I), identified as Deep Moran and Noga Moran, during an encounter at Dharmapur village under Maio Police Station in Changlang District. SFs also managed to arrest six other ULFA-I cadres, including two women, during the operation. One AK-47 rifle and one pistol were recovered from the possession of the arrested militants. It was suspected that the slain militants were involved in the ambush at Pengaree near Digboi in Tinsukia District, Assam, on November 19, 2016, in which three Army personnel were killed.
On July 26, 2016, personnel of the Assam Rifles (AR) and Assam Police, in a joint operation, killed a self-styled ‘lance corporal’ of ULFA-I, identified as Bhaity Milli aka Shan Asom in Changlang District. According to an AR statement, the militant had fired on the person leading the patrol and tried to escape. The troops retaliated and Milli was killed in the ensuing gunfight. One revolver along with ammunition was recovered from his possession.
On July 7, 2016, AR personnel killed four cadres of the ‘Reformation’ faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-R), identified as ‘captain’ Jano Tekwa, ‘sergeant major’ Lombho Pangsa, ‘sergeant’ Tongbai and ‘corporal’ Mankhu Wangsa, during an encounter at the remote Kheti village near Khonsa in Tirap District. The troops recovered two AK-47 rifles along with four magazines, one pistol, live ammunition and documents from the encounter site. NSCN-R cadres were reportedly engaged in collecting ‘tax’, arms dealing and drug peddling in Khonsa and villages nearby. The slain militants were operating from a temporary camp located in the vicinity of Kheti village, according to an AR statement.
The single incident in Arunachal Pradesh through 2016 in which SFs’ lost their life occurred on December 3, 2016. Two AR personnel, including a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO), were killed and eight others were injured when their convoy was ambushed by suspected militants of the Khaplang faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) at Nginu village in Tirap District along the India-Myanmar border.
The State did not witness a single civilian fatality in 2016.
Thus, according to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Arunachal Pradesh recorded a total of nine insurgency/militancy-related fatalities, including two SF personnel and seven militants in 2016, as against 10 fatalities, including two civilians, four SF personnel and four militants, through 2015. No fatalities have yet been registered in the State in 2017 (data till January 15). Insurgency related violence in Arunachal peaked in 2001, with 63 fatalities, including 40 civilians, 12 SF personnel and 11 militants
Further, incidents of killing through 2016 stood at four, as against six in 2015. The State witnessed only one major incident (involving three or more fatalities) through 2016; the July 7, 2016, Khonsa encounter, in which four NSCN-R cadres were killed. There was one major in 2015 as well: three Army personnel were killed and another four were wounded in an ambush when cadres of the Isak-Muivah faction of National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) fired on their convoy at Tupi village, along the Khonsa-Longding road, in Tirap District on April 2, 2015.
In 2016, fatalities were reported from two Districts (Changlang and Tirap) as against three (Changlang, Longding, Tirap) in 2015. While seven militants (four NSCN-R and three ULFA-I) were killed during 2016, a total of four militants (three NSCN-K and one unidentified) were killed in 2015.
Evidently, the overall security situation in the State has improved further through 2016, primarily due to sustained pressure from SFs who, apart from neutralising nine militants, arrested at least another 48 belonging to various outfits in 28 separate incidents through the year. Of the arrested militants, 28 belonged to various Naga outfits (NSCN-R, 12; NSCN-K, nine; NSCN-IM, six; and National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification (NSCN-U), 1); and 13 militants belonging to the Assam-based ULFA-I. Affiliations of the remaining seven arrested militants remained unconfirmed. These were in addition to 21 such arrests in 10 separate incidents in 2015. Two militants have been arrested so far in 2017(data till January 15).
Worryingly, however, extortion and abduction-for-extortion remained a major challenge. According to Arunachal Pradesh Police records, at least 103 cases of abduction and 80 cases of extortion were registered through 2016 (data till November 31). Reports indicate that different factions of the NSCN, ULFA-I and the I.K. Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB-IKS) were responsible for the majority of the reported cases (a large proportion of such incidents likely go unreported). In a prominent incident, ULFA-I militants abducted Kuldeep Moran, the son of Ratneswar Moran, vice-chairman of the Tinsukia zilla parishad (District Council) in Assam and a local leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), from Nampong in Changlang District on August 1, 2016. The militants reportedly demanded INR 10 million in ransom for his safe release. Interestingly, on August 22, 2016, ULFA-I released video footage of the abducted Moran making an appeal to his parents, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and BJP MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) from Sadiya Assembly Constituency in Tinsukia District, Bolin Chetia, to help secure his release. Moran was eventually released, reportedly without paying the ransom, on September 9, 2016.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), in a notification dated November 4, 2016, stated: “…further review of the law and order situation in Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts of Arunachal Pradesh indicates that :- 1) security scenario in Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts remains vitiated by the spillover of Naga insurgency; 2) Naga UG factions, namely NSCN-K, NSCN-IM, NSCN-R and NSCN-NK [Neokpao–Khitovi faction of NSCN, also known as NSCN-U] continue to indulge in extortion, area domination, recruitment of locals, inter-factional rivalry; 3) NSCN-K in active participation with ULFA-I, is persisting with its attempt to target Security Forces; 4) NSCN-IM is contriving to dominate areas hitherto occupied by NSCN-K and is resorting to intimidation and extortion; 5) NSCN-R is also active in Tirap, Longding and, Changlang Districts and with its armed cadres has been focusing on recruiting local youth; 6) NSCN-NK has managed to gain a foothold in Longding District and is engaging in extortion and abduction; 7) ULFA-I has started indulging in extortion in certain pockets along Arunachal-Assam boundary. Movement of NDFB-IKS and NDFB-R cadres has also been reported in these areas for escaping Counter Insurgency operations and for infiltrating to/from Myanmar. Therefore, Tirap, Changlang and Longding Districts in Arunachal Pradesh are declared as ‘disturbed area’ under Section 3 of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act [AFSPA], 1958, for six months, w.e.f. 4.11.2016, unless withdrawn earlier.”
Interestingly, the Union Government had signed a ‘framework agreement’with NSCN-IM on August 3, 2015, to find a final solution to the six-decade-old Naga issue. Though the Government had then stated that it would reach a final settlement in one year, nothing significant has been achieved so far.
Significantly, two of the three militancy affected Districts of Arunachal Pradesh (Changlang and Tirap) share borders with Myanmar, where many of the major insurgent groups operating in India’s Northeast region have taken shelter. 520 kilometres of the 1,643 kilometres-long Indian border with Myanmar pass through Arunachal Pradesh, and the rest through Manipur (398 kilometres), Nagaland (215 kilometres) and Mizoram (510 kilometres). The Union Government has so far sanctioned fencing along just 10 kilometres (all in Manipur). Only four kilometres of the sanctioned length has been completed so far and work has been suspended due to protest from the Government of Manipur. Concerned over reports that the border fencing would lead to a loss of at least 1,000 square kilometres of Manipur land, a significant chunk given the fact that the State’s total area is just 22,327 square kilometres, Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh on March 4, 2016, had told the State Assembly, “Manipur will never compromise on its territory.” He added that, until and unless all the contested claims are settled permanently, nothing should be done which may disturb the status quo. Most recently, the fencing carried out by the Myanmar Government along the India-Myanmar border in the Pangsa village area of Nagaland’s Tuensang District had been opposed by Naga groups on the grounds that the “proposed imaginary International boundary fencing” between India and Myanmar “will infringe Naga people inhabiting across artificial boundaries (sic).” It is imperative that India evolves a mechanism to strengthen its border management in the region.
Though Arunachal Pradesh has long remained ‘an island of relative peace’ in India’s troubled Northeast, the State continues to experience threats of insurgency-related violence as result of the ‘overflow’ of the insurgencies from neighbouring States and militant sanctuaries in Myanmar.
* Nijeesh N.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management