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Manipur: Nagas: United Fragments

10 July, 2013

According to a statement issued by MNPF 'deputy publicity secretary', Thomas Numai, with the formation of MNPF, MNRF and UNPC have been dissolved. The statement disclosed further that a decision to dissolve the two outfits and work together under one banner was adopted at a joint meeting of the two erstwhile parties convened on March 11, 2013; John Francis Kashung was identified as the 'chairman' of MNPF's first batch of central committee members. Other members included Wilson Tao ('general secretary'), Pairson Shily ('home secretary'), Isaac Shang ('finance secretary'), Jack Kapso ('organization secretary'), Thomas Numai ('deputy finance and deputy publicity secretary') and Ahao Jajo ('deputy defence secretary'). The statement further asserted:

(The) Time has come for us to struggle together to achieve our common goal by surrendering one's own interest and give room to accommodate other parallel bodies... We encompass all parties for a united struggle which is our loud and clear message. We shall not demoralize our political vision by remaining aloof like the organizations under cease-fire pacts [NSCN-IM, NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K) and NSCN-Khole-Kitovi (NSCN-KK) are currently under ceasefire with the Government of India] whose interest is either higher autonomy or economic package... Their submissive policy at the cost of people's blood and sweat has demoralized the revolutionary spirit, thereby losing people's confidence at large.
Taking serious note of the 'importance of people', MNPF has adopted the motto "For the People," the statement added, and identified, as the principal objective of the MNPF, the restoration of sovereignty and right to self-determination. Another objective was to bridge the gap between all revolutionary groups of the region - Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura. The outfit promised to eliminate social and economic disparity among different communities and strengthen "cohesion and revolutionary unity" for a strong and vibrant federal administrative system.

Significantly, however, on June 29, 2013, the MNRF denied any dissolution of the group and warned those 'attempting to tarnish the image' of the group. A statement issued by Rex Kashung, 'information and publicity secretary of MNRF', categorically rejected the authority of John Francis Kashung to take any action on behalf of the group, accusing him of creating confusion among the people, while also pointing out that he had already been terminated from the party for misconduct and 'corrupt thought'. While extending its best wishes on the formation of MNPF, the statement urged the MNPF not to adopt the logo of MNRF.

Both MNRF and UNPC were formed in 2008.

The creation of UNPC was formally announced in Senapati District on May 19, 2008, with cadres comprising of a splinter group of the NSCN-IM. Its 'president', S.S. Max, declared that the UNPC sought to restore peaceful co-existence amongst the people living in both hills and valley and to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Manipur. He also disclosed that the outfit was led by two 'colonels', one 'major', two 'captains', two 'junior lieutenants', three 'second lieutenants' and 20 trained cadres of the NSCN-IM, who had defected in April 2008 and had formed the UNPC on April 30. The UNPC has an armed wing called Ching-Tam-[Hill Valley] Liberation Army (CTLA).

MNRF was formed in 2008 under the leadership of Allen aka Atai Siro as its 'commander-in-chief'. On December 20, 2010, while talking to a select group of media persons, Siro stated, for the first time, that MNRF had been formed in March 2008 after a 'brainstorming discussion' with the like-minded persons, especially for peaceful co-existence amongst all the communities living together in Manipur under the motto, 'Unity, Independence and co-existence'. Siro noted that the Meiteis and other tribes, particularly the Tangkhul, have had close historical links since time immemorial, and "our forefathers used to tell us many stories that relate to this undeniable fact". However, he observed, some underground organizations like NSCN-IM have been hell-bent on Manipur's disintegration. MNRF, by contrast, stood firmly against such ill-conceived policies of NSCN-IM. Siro asserted, further, that 'one of the major principles of MNRF' was to protect the territorial integrity of Manipur, and the group would not let any underground organization break up 'Sana-Leipak' - the Golden Land (Manipur).

Both UNPC and MNRF have been involved in incidents of extortion, threats and intimidation, since their formation.

In a recent incident, on February 14, 2013, an assistant driver of a truck received bullet injuries when some unidentified persons opened fire at Mawai junction under Kasom Khullen Police Station in Ukhrul District. Police later recovered four spent cartridges of an AK rifle from the spot. MNRF claimed responsibility for the incident. According to a statement signed by the MNRF 'information and publicity officer' ´major´ Maxstone, truck owners and businessmen engaged in the timber business between Kasom Khullen and Kamjong areas had been 'requested' to extend monetary support to the organization since 2011. In April 2012 some money had been collected from truck drivers and owners. From 2013, MNRF had demanded that truck owners and businessmen pay the same amount of 'tax' as they were paying to NSCN-IM. The refusal of the truck owners and businessmen led to the firing incident.

The incident militates against the MNRF's May 2009 commitment that it would not collect house tax/ration tax, or, in any way, 'betray the public', even as the group criticized NSCN-IM for acting like a government and imposing 'taxes'. The MNRF had accused NSCN-IM of awarding contracts for supplies and projects to a few hand-picked contractors/suppliers and projecting candidates of their choice in elections. The people in Manipur, the MNRF declared, had been suffering due to NSCN-IM's 'tyrannical activities', and funds released by the Government had been going to the NSCN-IM.

On June 5, 2011, two powerful explosions went off one after another in the residential compound of the former United Naga Council (UNC) speaker, Simthi Ruivah, in Ukhrul District. Ruivah is the co-convenor of the Tangkhul Coordination Committee (TCC), formed by the Tangkhul Naga front organisations in the aftermath of the Manipur Government´s decision to bar NSCN-IM General Secretary Th. Muivah´s visit his hometown, Somdal in 2010. It was speculated that the incident was linked to the MNRF diktak; MNRF had served a quit notice to all the Tangkhul Naga front organisations on May 11, 2011.

In another incident, on January 25, 2011, Assam Rifles troopers rescued six Naga youths who were lured by promises of employment in Moreh, but were later taken away for recruitment to an MNRF camp near Tamu in Chandel District.

On March 12, 2012, in the wake of an extortion demand served on private schools by an armed group in Ukhrul District, the Joint Action Committee for Welfare of Private Schools (JAC-WOPS) appealed to responsible organization to refrain from such activities and honor the sanctity of the schools. Reports indicated that suspected UNPC cadres had served a demand of INR 50,000 on each private school located in Ukhrul.

Security Forces, meanwhile, managed to arrest some of the cadres of both outfits. According to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), nine militants each of MNRF and UNPC have been arrested since the formation of these groups. Five UNPC cadres have also surrendered thus far.

NSCN-IM had received another blow when the Zeliangrong United front-ZUF was formed in February 2011. ZUF sought to promote the interests of the Zeliangrong tribes, and also propounded its belief in the oneness of the Hill-Valley people, and in the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic groups.

On July 5, 2012, a day after ZUF accused NSCN-IM of practicing 'anti-Naga policies', MNRF, alleged that there was a problem wherever NSCN-IM was. MNRF publicity secretary Apam Ningshen declared that for the Tangkhul Naga community, every village or area had problems due to the involvement of the NSCN-IM in 'petty matters'. On April 25, 2011, condemning the ambush laid on the convoy party of Phungyar Manipur Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Wungnaoshang Keishing, MNRF stated that the Kamo (South) Tangkhul people of Phungyar areas in Ukhrul District had realised the nepotism, partiality and dirty policies of NSCN-IM, even though they were from the same community. On April 15, 2011, eight persons, including six Policemen, were killed and six injured in an ambush laid by the NSCN-IM on the convoy of the Phungyar MLA near Riha village in Ukhrul District. On April 19, 2011, NSCN-IM had accused Wungnaoshang of working hand in glove with the Ibobi Government´s policy to 'disintegrate Naga territories' by creating a new cosmopolitan District, Phungyar. Keishing, who supported the initiative, had also been warned of "drastic action" by the UNC, if he did not withdraw his support for the new District.

On July 24, 2011, again, the NSCN-IM killed a couple, Varengam and his wife, at Lungpha village in Ukhrul District. However, 'expressing regret' for killing Varengam´s wife, NSCN-IM stated that Varengam was killed because he was working with MNRF, which was allegedly working with the State Government.

The MNRF is also believed to have established relations with the United Peoples Party of Kangleipak (UPPK), outfit that has been expelled from CorCom. A February 4, 2013 report indicated that 44 UPPK cadres who were `rescued` by a team of Thoubal commandos on February 3, had come from a camp which the outfit shares with the MNRF and the Kamtapur Liberation organization (KLO) of Assam, at Leipok in the Tamu Sub-division of Myanmar.

Amidst all these developments, on June 27, 2013, Union Home Minister (UHM), Sushil Kumar Shinde claimed that the Centre was working 'seriously' to secure an early solution in the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks between the GoI and some Naga groups.

MNRF and UNPC have come together in the aftermath of the formation of CorCom, visualized as a 'strong united front' by the Valley-based Meitei groups. The possibility of a coming together of the newly united Naga groups with the Valley based outfits, given the similarity of their declared ideologies and objective of preserving the territorial integrity of Manipur, appears to be crystallizing. The NSCN-IM, in such a scenario, would be at loose ends.

(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)

(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not RDI IBNS)

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