By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On January 8, 2016, a meeting convened by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA) on the issue of repatriation of Brus in six relief camps in Tripura remained inconclusive. “We informed the Home Ministry officials that the Brus refused to return to Mizoram despite repeated arrangements made by Mizoram Government in the relief camps for the repatriation,” Mizoram Chief Secretary Lalmalsawma stated. Lalmalsawma also disclosed that the time or venue of the next meeting was not fixed to discuss the issue in future as the Mizoram Government is of the opinion that it would be a futile exercise if more repatriation attempts are made in future.
Conversely, Bruno Msha, general secretary of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the lone organisation representing the refugees in this imbroglio, alleged on December 1, 2015, that the Mizoram Government was yet to accept their eight-point demands in writing. These included financial support of INR 200,000 for each tribal family, free rations for four years, contiguous resettlement of the returnees with adequate security, land titles for the tribal families who are to be allotted plots to build houses, and financial aid to purchase about 2.5 acres of farmland for each family. Msha also alleged, “The experience of a few hundred refugees is very bad after their return to their villages in western Mizoram from Tripura a few years back as the Mizoram government did not fulfill its commitments.”
Indeed, the last attempt to repatriate the Brus between June 2, 2015, and September 4, 2015, had failed miserably, as only one Bru woman opted to be repatriated to Mizoram from relief camps in Tripura. Arrangements had been made to repatriate over 20,700 Brus belonging to 3,455 families, who had fled Mizoram in the wake of ethnic clashes in the 1990s.
This contentious issue appears slated to linger, with neither side demonstrating the requisite seriousness.
Meanwhile, after a long hiatus, Mizoram recorded a major (resulting in three or more fatalities) insurgency-linked incident in 2015. On March 28, 2015, Hmar People’s Convention – Democracy (HPC-D) militants ambushed a vehicle carrying R.L. Pianmawia, Chairman of the ‘Mizoram Assembly Committee on Government Assurances’, and two other Members of the State Assembly – Lalthanliana and lone woman legislator Vanlalawmpuii Chawngthu – at Zokhawthiang in Aizawl District. The legislators, accompanied by State Assembly officials, were on a tour when they were attacked. Though the legislators escaped unhurt, three of the Security Force (SF) personnel protecting them were killed. Four SF personnel and one State Assembly staffer sustained injuries in the attack. The militants escaped with two AK-47 assault rifles and four pistols taken from the slain Policemen.
The last major attack in the State was recorded on September 2, 2008, when four Police personnel, were killed when suspected HPC-D militants had ambushed a vehicle at Saipum village in the Kolasib District. Three other Police personnel were injured, while civilians who were in the vehicle had escape unhurt.
In the interim, the State has recorded only four insurgency-related fatalities – all four civilians – in three separate incidents. The last incident of killing was reported on October 15, 2014, when bodies of two non-tribals, suspected to be those of a truck driver and his helper, both believed to be from the Kamrup District in Assam, were recovered from Tuikhurhlu in Aizawl District. No further detail was available in this regard. The last militant killing was recorded on February 26, 2008, when Thangcha Kipgen, ‘president’ of the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA), was killed in a hotel room in capital Aizawl in an alleged factional fight.
The killing on March 28, 2015, was the lone fatality reported through 2015. There were, moreover, no incidents of explosion or arson through the year, as against three incidents of explosion in 2014. Further, according to the State Home Department, there had not been a single incident of abduction through 2015 (till May 2015). SATP did not record any incident of abduction thereafter.
SFs arrested six militants (all HPC-D cadres), including a ‘commander’, identified as Paul Laldemloa, in 2015. Police also arrested two civilians at Bilkhawthlir village in Kolasib District on September 17, 2015, when they were on their way to allegedly hand over INR 12,000 to HPC-D militants. In 2014, Police had arrested five HPC-D militants.
Indeed, the peace established in 1986 in Mizoram has substantially prevailed since. During the 24 years between 1992 and 2015, the State, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, has recorded 49 insurgency-related fatalities, including 15 civilians, 25 SF personnel and nine militants, an average of just over two fatalities in a year, underlining the fact that a lasting peace has been established.
Several peripheral challenges, nevertheless, persist. `Small tremors of militant activity continue. In addition to the March 28, 2015, attack, HPC-D militants had also attacked a Police Outpost at Khawlian in Aizawl District on March 5, 2015, but there were no casualties in the incident.
Some incidents of recovery of arms and ammunition were also reported, suggesting that efforts to revive militancy in the State continue. In one such incident, on October 23, 2015, acting on a tip-off, Assam Rifles personnel conducted a raid in an area between Keitum and Khawlailung villages in Serchhip District and seized eight assault rifles (five AK-47s and three AK-59s) and 12 magazines from two Mizo men. The duo was arrested.
HPC-D remains the biggest threat. Admitting that the atmosphere of peace in the state was disrupted by the ambush on March 28, 2015, Mizoram Chief Minister (CM) Lal Thanhawla, in his Independence Day speech on August 15, 2015, disclosed, “Counter operation was launched by the Mizoram Police and in the ensuing operation self-styled Sergeant Malsawmkima of the HPC-D, a Police deserter, was killed near the Manipur border on May 8.” He assured the people of the State that the Government would leave no stone unturned in maintaining peace and tranquillity. On May 8, 2015, Mizoram Police Commandos had gunned down H.C. Malsawmkima at Tiaulian in the Churachandpur District. The militant was a former constable of the Mizoram Armed Police, who ran away from the Sakawrdai Border Police Outpost in July 2014 to join HPC-D. He had fled with an AK-47 rifle and an INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) rifle.
On December 2, 2015, worried about recent incidents, the Mizoram Government announced a cash reward of INR 100,000 each for anyone giving information leading to the arrest of five militants of HPC-D who were involved in the March 28, 2015, ambush. The militants were identified as Thanglawmvel, Rinsang and Lalrohuol, all of them from Manipur; and Lalchawimawia and Jacob, both from Mizoram.
While the residual HPC-D insurgency is a lingering problem, the continued failure of the State to deal with the drug trade and use is worrisome. According to Mizoram’s Excise & Narcotics Department (END), in addition to 38 drug related deaths in 2014, the State recorded 27 such deaths in 2015. Of the deaths in 2015, nine died due to heroin addiction, four due to abuse of spasmo proxyvon and parvon spas, while 14 died due to consumption of a mixture of different kinds of intoxicating drugs. At least 1,342 people, including 141 women, have died in the State due to drugs since 1984, when the first drug-related death was reported, it added. The drug trade and use have had persistent overlaps with organised criminal and terrorist activity in the State and region.
Despite an enduring peace since 1986, Mizoram has failed to address residual problems, including the return and resettlement of displaced populations, as well as the remnants of insurgency, arms smuggling and drug trafficking. While these may be dismissed by the ruling establishments as mere irritants, they have a potential for disproportionate escalation in unpredictable circumstances.
* Deepak Kumar Nayak.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management