By Giriraj Bhattacharjee*
On December 6, 2021, Security Forces (SFs) recovered the bodies of two civilians, Ramen Hagjer and Amar Goswami, from a Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA)-designated camp in the Kasmaipur area under the Maibang sub-division of Dima Hasao District. Nine others, including five DNLA militants, who were injured, were rescued by SFs from near the site where the body was recovered.
The killed and injured civilians were picked up on December 5 by DNLA militants, allegedly for stealing and selling parts of an abandoned excavator in the area. The injured DNLA militants were new recruits who tried to escape from the camp and were ‘punished’ by their seniors, according to villagers. One of the injured nine died later.
On December 7, five DNLA militants, including ‘deputy chairman’ Juddychan Haflongbar aka America, ‘general secretary’ Pritamjit Jidung aka Galao, Dafaljit Langthasa aka Dawraja, Nobojit Phonglo aka Naga Hoja, and Notunjoy Nunisa, were arrested in connection with the incident.
This is the first DNLA-linked incident reported since September 7, 2021, when the group declared a unilateral ceasefire “as a goodwill gesture and a positive response to the call for peace” by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
Later, on September 24, 2021, the ‘chairman’ of DNLA, Edika Diphusa aka Kharmindao Dimasa, his deputy Juddychan Haflongbar, and ‘general secretary’ Prithamjit Jidongsa aka Galao Dimasa, had come overground. However, their present whereabouts are not known.
Again, on November 13, 46 DNLA cadres led by ‘commander in chief’ Mushrang aka Naiding Dimasa came overground before Debolal Garlosa, the CEM of Dima Hasao Autonomous District Council, and Hiren Nath, Additional Director General of Police-Special Branch, at Khepre in Dima Hasao District. Naiding Dimasa stated, “More than 300 others will come overground soon once the ceasefire camp is ready.”
Further, on December 23, 2021, 67 DNLA militants laid down their arms in a ‘returning to mainstream’ ceremony held at Dhansiripar in Karbi Anglong District. DNLA militants deposited two AK 47 rifles, nine pistols, nine locally made guns and over 300 cartridges. Additional Director General of Police (ADGP-Special Branch) Hiren Nath stated, “A few members had laid down their arms earlier and a few were there to surrender. They have surrendered today. Their issues will be taken up and they would be rehabilitated.”
In between, on October 28, 2021, an agreement for a six-month-long ceasefire was signed between the Union and State Government, on the one hand, and DNLA, on the other.
Subsequently, one designated camp each for DNLA militants was set up at Umrangso and Maibang in Dima Hasao District, one in Karbi Anglong, and one along the Dima Hasao-Cachar District boundary.
DNLA was formed on April 15, 2019, with the purported aim of establishing a sovereign and independent Dimasa nation. Presently, the Dimasa ethnic group inhabits parts of Dima Hasao, Karbi Anglong, Cachar, Hojai, and Nagaon Districts in Assam, as well as parts of Nagaland.
According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, since its formation and till the September 7 declaration of ceasefire, the group was responsible for eight killings (all civilians), and all reported in 2021. The DNLA-linked killings include:
May 19, 2021: DNLA militants killed Sanjoy Ronghang, a priest, in the Dhansiri Police outpost area of Karbi Anglong District.
January 27, 2021: DNLA militants killed two persons in a firing incident, again in the Dhansiri area of Karbi Anglong District.
On the other hand, since its formation, DNLA had lost 36 cadres (11 killed, 12 arrested and 13 surrendered) before the declaration of the ceasefire. In a major setback, on May 23, 2021, the Assam Police and Assam Rifles, in a joint operation, killed eight DNLA militants in an encounter in the Dhansiri area of Karbi Anglong District. One Assam Rifles trooper was injured in the encounter. Other prominent losses faced by the outfit included:
On December 21, 2020, 13 DNLA militants surrendered before the then Chief Minister Sarbananada Sonowal in a ceremony held in Guwahati.
On January 29, 2020, Assam Police arrested DNLA’s ‘Army Chief’ Minom Phonglosa aka Gazaw Dimasa from Karbi Anglong District.
Clearly, DNLA has been facing the heat from SFs and was looking for an escape route. The unilateral ceasefire was the outcome of increasing pressure on the group.
The December 5-7, incidents demonstrate that the group, though officially under ceasefire, remains active on the ground. More so, the involvement of ‘deputy chairman’ Juddychan Haflongbar, who officially surrendered on September 24, suggests that the commitment to the unilateral ceasefire declared by the group is uncertain, or disputed within the group.
The Government needs to learn the lessons of previous long-drawn ‘peace processes’ with various militant groups, which have resulted in willful violations of ceasefire rules, particularly the menace of extortion, abduction, and other forms of criminal intimidation by surrendered cadres. All efforts to avoid protracted negotiations with the group should be made.
*Giriraj Bhattacharjee, Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management