Sunday, April 2, 2023

Days after pulling out of Kuki truce pact, Manipur CM met Amit Shah to discuss ground situation

The Manipur government’s decision to withdraw from a Suspension of Operation (SoO) agreement with three Kuki-Zomi insurgent groups on March 10 was based on its assessment that these outfits are supporting an influx of Myanmarese immigrants from across the border, encouraging poppy cultivation and the drug trade, and are behind protests against eviction drives in Kuki villages that exist on “encroached forest land”, sources in the state government have said. An umbrella organisation of the Kuki outfits has dismissed the allegations, reports Indian Express.
Earlier this week, Chief Minister N Biren Singh met Union Home Minister Amit Shah in New Delhi and, according to sources, urged him to clarify the provisions of the SoO agreement and ensure the regulations are strictly followed on the ground. A delegation led by Manipur Chief Secretary Dr Rajesh Kumar also met Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla and the Centre’s peace talks interlocutor A K Mishra. The Union government has so far not commented on the latest developments.
The state government’s decision to withdraw from the pact with the Kuki National Army (KNA), the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) came on the heels of protests against the eviction drives. The government believes the insurgents threw their weight behind the protests organised by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum.
Sources in the government said the issue was far more complex than land encroachment and the evictions were more about the influx of immigrants from Myanmar. “Illegal immigration from Myanmar has jumped over the past year and a half. There has always been infiltration of illegal immigrants in smaller numbers and since they all belong to the Kuki-Zomi group of tribes, it is difficult for the administration to tell the difference between Indian residents and illegal immigrants. There have been dozens of villages that have simply come up in the state overnight. We believe that if this influx continues, then there is a real possibility of the demography of Manipur being changed entirely,” said a source in the state government.
Several student outfits that agree with the government’s position, including the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) and the Manipur Students’ Federation (MSF), organised protests on Saturday at Jantar Mantar in Delhi and in Manipur to demand the implementation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state. To bolster its claim, the government claims that many of the leaders and the cadre of the insurgent groups either are from Myanmar or of Myanmarese descent, among them ZRA president Phanznianpau Guite.
The state government has also accused the insurgent groups of being involved in the drug trade by supporting the cultivation of poppy in areas they dominate. “Most of the poppy plantation is taking place in the Kuki-dominated areas and is being supported by many of these groups. This is giving a push to the cross-border drug trade. The forests are being cleared in favour of poppy cultivation and the villagers pay ‘taxes’ to the groups through this trade. There is just too much illegal activity taking place in these areas that need to be curtailed. We are waiting for the Centre to give us the go-ahead to withdraw. The Centre also needs to clarify and re-establish the SoO ground rules,’’ said a state government official.
An official of the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), the umbrella group of armed Kuki organisations, dismissed the allegations as baseless. “The Manipur government has made its decision based on three allegations — that the groups support poppy cultivation and drug trade, that the Kukis are encroaching on forest land, and that many of the leaders of these groups are Burmese. These are baseless allegations. The international and state boundaries are political and have divided the communities living here. Many families from Manipur and Mizoram are split between this side and Myanmar. With a porous border, there has always been back and forth between these families and community members. The international border is a British colonial construct. The president of KNO was born in a Kuki area of now-Nagaland, at a time when Nagaland did not exist. There was no Manipur-Nagaland at the time. To say that he does not belong to Manipur is egregious,” said the leader.
The KNO official said more refugees were indeed coming from across the border but nowhere near what the government is projecting.
Leaders from the Kuki-Zomi insurgent groups said the Biren Singh government’s decision to pull out of the agreement reveals that it is afraid of the peace talks concluding. The groups have asked for a “territorial council” within Manipur’s boundaries that will receive separate funds from the Centre and the state Budget for the development of the Kuki-Zomi areas. They have also demanded that funds need to be mandatorily released in a set timeframe and cannot be diverted for any other purpose. The groups claim that the Union government has agreed to the second demand.
But the changing nature of the political landscape because of the ongoing peace talks — between the Nagas, the Union government, and the Kuki groups — heavily influenced the state government’s decision, according to insurgent outfits.
A conflict analyst based in Imphal said, “The Kukis have always been pro-establishment, unlike the Nagas, and have cooperated with both the state and the Centre. They have also always been used — whether it is by the British as a buffer against aggressive Meitei or Naga forces, or later by the Union and Manipur governments as a balancing force against the Naga groups. But with the Naga peace talks and the indigenous Naga groups under the NNPGs (Naga National Political Groups) making it very clear that the solution within Nagaland will be for indigenous Naga tribes — not for Manipuri Nagas — and the demand for Greater Nagalim being seen as impractical, the Nagas have scaled down their approach and hostilities between the Meiteis and Nagas has been on the decline. As a result of this, there has been an ‘othering’ of the Kukis that we have been witnessing over the past few years.”
The Centre has so far been silent on the issue. Officials said the fallout of the state government’s withdrawal from the agreement could have serious consequences. “First of all, the insurgent leaders will become open to arrest by the state government, as they are currently protected by the SoO regulations. They will also have the freedom to take up arms and retaliate in any way they choose against actions by the state. The Manipur government’s action means that the negotiations with the Kuki groups will be a stalemate, at least for the time being, and negotiations will stand suspended,” said an official.


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