By Giriraj Bhattacharjee
A tripartite peace agreement between the Assam State Government, the Union Government and the rebel United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), termed ‘historic’ by Union Home Minister (UHM) P. Chidambaram, was signed on November 24, 2011. A Ceasefire Agreement with the group has been in place since August 1, 2002.
According to the tripartite agreement, a Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council (KAATC) is to be formed by 2016, replacing the existing Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC) formed in 1995. The proposed territory of KAATC would have three revenue and administrative Districts — East Karbi Anglong, Central Karbi Anglong and West Karbi Anglong, with headquarters at Koilamati, Singhason and Hamren, respectively – which would be formed by dividing the present Karbi Anglong District. Further, KAATC would have 55 seats [as against 30 seats in the present KAAC], of which 45 will be reserved for Scheduled Tribes, five will be open, and five seats will be filled through nominations.
Given the extended delay in arriving at the tripartite agreement, after the ceasefire of 2002, UPDS cadres are now chafing over the fact that, five months since the signing of the accord, the monitoring committee, to be led by a Joint Secretary level officer in the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), which was to be to formed to oversee the implementation of the agreement, is yet to be constituted, though the UPDS claimed, on April 24, 2012, that it had sent a list of its nominees to the Central Government. Since the Committee has not been formed, a further clause of the tripartite agreement, stipulating an ‘economic package’ worth INR 3.5 billion for the Karbi Anglong region, cannot be implemented. Further, the UPDS complains, little movement has been noticed towards tabling in Parliament the constitutional amendment required for the formation of KAATC.
The Union Ministry of Home Affairs (UMHA), which was entrusted with the task of implementing the accord, is apparently waiting for a peace accord with Black Widow aka Dima Halim Daogah – Jewel Garlosa (DHD-JG) group, based in the neighbouring Dima Hasao District, to be finalized, before moving the required constitutional amendment. A draft Memorandum of Settlement (MoS) with Black Widow is reported to be ‘almost ready’, but Government is hoping for a ‘breakthrough’ with another faction, the Dima Halim Daogah-Nunisa (DHD-N), before signing the agreement with the DHD-JG. Talks with DHD-N are, however, at a stalemate over the demand for the inclusion of 90 villages, in Karbi Anglong District apart from the neighbouring Districts of Cachar and Nagaon, in the proposed territorial council.
Peace talks with another Karbi outfit, the Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), which declared a ceasefire and surrendered arms in February 2010, have also stalled. KLNLF ‘Chairman’, Pongbi Dilli, on December 1, 2011, argues, “We were supposed to sign a peace accord along with UPDS but we did not because the Centre wanted us to drop our core demand of a separate Karbi State, we cannot compromise on this”. KLNLF is demanding an autonomous State for the Karbis under Article 244(A) of the Indian Constitution, but both the Union and State Governments are opposed to the idea of an autonomous State within a State.
As the peace processes hit roadblocks, rebel cadres are showing signs of restiveness. Reports indicate that, since 2010, 17 KLNLF and eight UPDS militants have fled their designated camps located in Karbi Anglong District, along with arms and ammunition. Police have no clue about the whereabouts of these deserters. Further, Police have arrested 22 KLNLF militants for violating ceasefire rules between March 2010 and February 2012, and seized 23 weapons.
Situated in central Assam, covering an area of 10,434 square kilometers, and bounded by Golaghat District in the east, Meghalaya and Morigaon District in the West, Nagaon and Golaghat Districts in the North and Dima Hasao [formerly North Cachar (NC) Hills] District and Nagaland in the South, the Karbi Anglong District has suffered from militancy since the early 1990’s, with the formation of the Karbi National Volunteers (KNV) and Karbi People’s Front (KPF). KNV and KPF merged in March 1999, to form the UPDS; the KLNLF was formed on May 16, 2004, as a result of a split within UPDS. KPLT was formed on January 8, 2011 out of the Anti-Talks faction of the KLNLF.
Since March 10, 2000, the Karbi Anglong District has witnessed 512 killings, including 361 civilians, 15 SFs and 136 militants. While UPDS was involved in 88 of these killings, KLNLF was involved in 176 fatalities. Apart from the killings, the District has witnessed another 229 incidents of violence, including abduction, extortion, rival group clashes, exchange of fire, bomb blasts, etc. At least 72 incidents of arrest and 21 incidents of recovery of arms, ammunition and explosives, have also been recorded during this period.
Militancy was at its peak in 2005, with 108 fatalities recorded that year, but dropped sharply in 2010, with just 10 fatalities. A gradual rise has been in evidence through 2011 (12 fatalities) and 2012 (nine killed by May 20).
The rise in violence since 2011 is largely attributed to the formation of KPLT. Since its formation, KPLT has been involved at least 53 incidents of violence within the District, and one (civilian) killing in the bordering Golaghat District. Of the 53 incidents, 17 included fatalities, in which five civilians, 3 Security Forces (SF) personnel, and 16 KPLT cadres were killed. The most prominent of these incidents included:
August 13, 2011: A truck driver, Nandu Mathu, was killed and 11 others, including six Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) activists, were injured, when suspected KPLT militants opened fire on vehicles on National Highway 37 at Panbari near Kaziranga National Park in Golaghat District.
April 2, 2011: KPLT militants killed three Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and injured four others in an ambush near Rongshuli village in Karbi Anglong District.
Significantly, no other group in the District has been involved in any fatalities since 2011, with the exception of a single incident of a fratricidal killing (on March 30, 2012) involving Kuki militant groups – the Assam unit of the Manipur-based Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) and Karbi Anglong based United Kukigram Defense Army (UKDA). One UKDA militant was killed in the incident.
KPLT has, moreover, been involved in rampant abduction-for-ransom and extortion since its inception. In the latest of a series of abductions, on March 3, 2012, KPLT abducted two persons, including the Chief Conservator of Forests of Karbi Anglong, Abhijit Rabha, and Range Officer, Ranjan Barua, from the foothills of the Singhason Hills. The KPLT demanded INR 10 million for their release. The duo was released on March 6, and reports indicate that the Forest Department paid INR 7 million as ransom. Police subsequently arrested Ranjan Barua and another forest official, Dinesh Patgiri, on April 7, for paying the ransom. Earlier, on April 6, SFs had arrested Bhupendra Narzary, an Officer on Special Duty (OSD), posted at the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests, Karbi Anglong, following the arrest of two KPLT militants, and the recovery of INR 3.5 million from them.
Meanwhile, reports indicate that, in the interior areas of the District, extortion is endemic. One report quoted an unnamed schoolteacher working in one of the remote areas as stating,
Extortion is the biggest issue in these militant-dominated interior areas of Karbi Anglong. Here, each household has to pay an annual tax to the militants. Shop and vehicle owners have to pay them tax for using the hill district’s land for business. Even we have to pay a monthly ‘tax’ from our salary.
The State Government estimates the strength of KPLT at around 60-70 militants equipped with sophisticated weapons, including AK rifles, M20 recoilless armor penetrating rifles, Light Machine Guns, mortars, etc. In addition, reports suggest that KPLT has established links with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and Kanglei Yowel Kanna Lup (KYKL), operating in the neighbouring Manipur State, for training new cadres. Significantly, these two Manipuri outfits are part of the Coordination Committee (CorCom) of seven Imphal Valley-based groups. KPLT is also reported to have established links with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB). There are indications that some former UPDS militants have also started helping KPLT.
Troubled by rising trends in violence and disruption, on March 19, 2012, the Government directed the Unified Command (UC) of SFs to initiate counter-insurgency operations against KPLT cadres. Since then, three encounters have been recorded in the District:
March 28, 2012: SFs arrested a KPLT militant following an encounter at Tarlangshu in Karbi Anglong District. Another KPLT militant sustained injuries during the encounter, but managed to escape.
March 30, 2012: SFs killed a militant of the KPLT and injured two others in an encounter at an unspecified area under the Bokolia Police Station in Karbi Anglong District. SFs also arrested three KPLT militants after the encounter along with two AK-56 automatic rifles, one .76 revolver and some extortion notes.
April 20, 2012: SFs killed the founding ‘general secretary’ of the KPLT, Nilip Enghi and four other cadres during an encounter on the hill tracks on Harlong Woti in Borpung, under the Chowkihola Police Station in Karbi Anglong District. One KPLT militant sustained serious bullet injuries. Nilip Enghi was considered the ‘brain’ of the outfit.
The KPLT has lost 16 of its cadre, including its ‘General Secretary, Nilip Enghi, and ‘Commander-in-Chief’ Blain Hanse, since its formation in January 2011. SFs have, so far, also arrested 43 persons linked with the rebel formation. Another 16 KPLT militants, including five ‘top leaders’, have surrendered.
Meanwhile, the SFs recovered the mutilated body of Blain Hanse, the KPLT ‘commander-in-chief’, on May 5, 2012, from the Tarapung area under the Chokihola Police Station. Investigations indicate that Hanse was the victim of a drunken brawl within the group, and was killed by a fellow KPLT militant on May 2, 2012.
Renewed operations by the SFs and infighting within the outfit have dealt major blows to the KPLT. Nevertheless, the outfit retains significant capacities for disruption. Worse, resentment against delays in hammering out and implementing various ‘accords’ appears to be growing. Wojaru Mukrang, former UPDS ‘Joint Secretary’ (in-charge of political affairs) and now an elected member of the KAAC, thus complains, “There was no condition in the MoS that our settlement is dependent on how negotiations with other groups progress… We are already in the mainstream and not going back to the jungles. But this is unfair.”
Elections for 26 seats in the KAAC were held on January 4, 2012, with the Congress Party winning the maximum number (15). The KAAC term will last till 2016.
Conspicuously, the Karbi jigsaw remains fragmented, and will not fall into place unless all groups are brought to the negotiating table, and a consensual formula is implemented.
Research Assistant, Institute for Conflict Management