The Union and Manipur governments have signed a peace agreement with the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), a banned Meitei extremist organisation which is also the oldest armed group based in the Manipur valley, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Wednesday.
“UNLF, the oldest valley-based armed group of Manipur has agreed to renounce violence and join the mainstream. I welcome them to the democratic processes and wish them all the best in their journey on the path of peace and progress,” Mr. Shah said.
The UNLF was formed in 1964 and has been operating both within and outside Indian territory, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said.
It is one of the eight Meitei extremist organisations that the MHA has declared to be unlawful associations under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967. Last week, the ban against these groups, which seek Manipur’s secession from India, was extended for another five years.
Though the MHA did not share the details of the surrendered militants, The Hindu has learnt that as many as 65 cadres of one of the factions of the UNLF, led by K. Pambei, have joined the peace pact. The 65 cadres of the Pambei faction are said to have entered Manipur during the ongoing ethnic violence.
The other faction of the UNLF, led by R.K. Achou Singh alias Koireng, is still out of the pact and is said to be operating from Myanmar. The Koireng faction of the UNLF is said to have around 300 cadres.
This development comes days after a UNLF camp at Thanan in Myanmar, close to the Manipur border, was destroyed by rebel forces on November 22. The UNLF was preparing to celebrate its 59th anniversary when the camp was destroyed, and five cadres were said to have been killed by the Peoples Defence Force, an ethnic armed group in Myanmar.
Locals also surrender
On November 29, Mr. Shah shared a video clip and photographs of the cadres of the insurgent group, queueing to surrender their weapons in an open field. A source said that the cadres were camped at Igourok in Thoubal district.
The photo suggested that there were more than 250 cadres who surrendered on Wednesday. The source added that some locals also joined the group during the ongoing violence, which is why their strength had increased by the time of the surrender.
New era of peace
In a statement, the MHA said that the agreement was poised to usher in a new era of peace in the North East in general and Manipur in particular.
“While political settlements have been finalised with several ethnic armed groups of the North East as part of conflict resolution initiatives of Government of India, it is for the first time a valley-based Manipuri armed group has agreed to return to mainstream by abjuring violence and agreeing to honour the Constitution of India and laws of the land. The agreement will not only bring an end to hostilities between UNLF and security forces which have claimed precious lives on both sides over the last more than half a century but also provide an opportunity to address the longstanding concerns of the community,” the MHA said.
It is hoped that the return of the UNLF to the mainstream will also encourage other valley-based armed groups to participate in the peace process in due course, the Ministry said, adding that a peace monitoring committee would be constituted to oversee the enforcement of the agreed ground rules.
The agreement was signed in New Delhi by senior officials of the MHA, the government of Manipur, and representatives of the UNLF, it said.