Kuki groups in Manipur deny violation of ground rules under Suspension of Operations pact

Kuki groups will now demand separate administration of Manipur hill areas during talks with MHA; before the May 3 violence, they had almost settled for local self-governance of the Kuki tribal areas

Updated - June 02, 2023 12:03 am IST

Published - June 01, 2023 09:28 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Security personnel stand guard at Kangchuk, Manipur on June 1, 2023.

Security personnel stand guard at Kangchuk, Manipur on June 1, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

The Kuki militant groups, which signed a Suspension of Operations (SoO) pact with the Centre and the Manipur government in 2008 have not violated any ground rules, a member of the SoO group said on Thursday. The member added that the groups would stick to their demand for a separate administration of hill areas in Manipur during future peace talks with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Home Minister Amit Shah on Thursday warned the SoO groups that “any violation of any condition of the agreement will be dealt with harshly.”

The SoO group member, who did not wish to be named, said that the groups were disappointed by the “general statement” by the Minister. “There was no mention of violations by the security forces against the tribals in the hill areas. The weapons from police battalions were used against the hill people, many were just defending themselves by their licensed wepaons,” the member said.

2008 pact

The Manipur government, the MHA and 24 Kuki insurgent groups formalised an SoO pact in 2008. The groups have since held several rounds of negotiation with the Centre and had almost settled for “local self-governance” of Kuki tribal areas in Manipur before the current bout of violence erupted on May 3.

The 2008 pact was signed in the wake of Kuki-Naga clashes in the 1990s when hundreds were killed. The militant groups had then demanded an independent land for the Kukis.

The main conditions of the pact were that the groups would surrender their weapons, join peace talks and stay in designated camps. The SoO was signed by two Kuki umbrella organisations — the United Peoples’ Front (UPF) and the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) — which together represented 24 insurgent groups.

Camp conditions

There are 2,200 cadres belonging to the two organisations who are supposed to stay in 14 designated camps. They are each entitled to a monthly stipend of ₹6,000. After the May 3 violence erupted in Manipur, there were allegations that the sophisticated weapons surrendered as part of the SoO pact were used to attack the Meitei community.

“The camps are in a terrible condition. The stipend comes once in every 14 months. Though the Centre reimburses the funds to Manipur government, the latter does not release the money timely. If cadres do not step out of the camps to earn their living, will they eat dust?” asked the SoO group member.

According to the rules, the surrendered weapons are kept in locked trunks and compartments and are to be checked by security forces every week, with a key available with the militant groups also. After the violence, a weapons audit was ordered at the SoO camps.

Manipur withdrew from pact

The SoO agreements with the UPF and the KNO, which are reviewed every year, were last extended by the MHA for a the one-year period from March 1, 2023 to February 29, 2024.

On March 10 this year, the N. Biren Singh government decided to withdraw from the agreement, with two Kuki-Zomi militant groups — the Kuki National Army (KNA) and the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) — accusing them of pushing illegal migrants from Myanmar. The Kuki-Chin-Mizo communities, who have shared ethnic ties, are spread across Manipur and Mizoram, as well as in the neighbouring countries of Myanmar and Bangladesh.

According to the MHA, there are eight terrorist or unlawful associations in Manipur, all of which are Meitei groups: the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its political wing, the Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF); United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and its armed wing, the Manipur People’s Army (MPA); People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) and its armed wing, the Red Army; Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP) and its armed wing, also called the Red Army; Kanglei Yaol Kanba Lup (KYKL), Coordination Committee (Cor-Com), Alliance for Socialist Unity Kangleipak (ASUK), and Manipur People’s Liberation Front (MPLF).

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