Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday met Kuki militant groups offering them a peace plan on behalf of the Union government.
The armed groups had signed a suspension of operation (SoO) pact with the Centre and the Manipur Government in 2008 for a political settlement of their demands for self-governance.
On Monday, a 22-year-old tribal man identified as Muansang was killed after he was hit by a bullet at Loilaphai village on the boundary of Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts in Manipur.
The attack took place when Governor Anusuiya Uikey was visiting a relief camp in Churachandpur district.
“The exact circumstances of the attack are not known as the area lies between two district boundaries. There was no State police or Central police force deployed in the area at the time of the incident. The place is not among the identified vulnerable areas,” Karthik Malladi, Superintendent of Police, Churachandpur, told The Hindu.
The Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF) accused Meitei separatist groups for the killing.
In another incident, an exchange of fire between the two groups was reported on Monday morning in Khamenlok near Sagolmang in Imphal East district. Reliable reports said at least three Meitei villagers were injured.
In his meeting with the groups under SoO in Guwahati, Mr. Sarma is learnt to have conveyed that the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) will be deployed in the “buffer zones” or foothills, the areas at the junction of Kuki and Meitei settlements, in the next two to three days. Most incidents, gunfight and arson have been reported from the buffer zones since the ethnic violence erupted on May 3 that has claimed more than 100 lives and displaced over 50,000 people.
The SoO groups assured Mr. Sarma that the armed village guards deployed at the foothills to defend the villages from an attack by Meitei groups will be withdrawn as soon as the Central forces are deployed, a SoO member who attended the meeting told The Hindu.
Chief Minister N. Biren Singh on May 15 warned stern action against extremist groups under SoO agreement for possessing weapons illegally. Civil society groups in Imphal have called for cancellation of the SoO pact with the Kuki groups accusing them of using the surrendered weapons to attack Meitei villages.
Mr. Sarma, who was sent to Imphal last week by Home Minister Amit Shah to carry forward the peace negotiations, had met Meitei civil society groups where the peace plan offered by the Centre was discussed.
Mr. Sarma’s visit to Manipur comes days after Home Minister Amit Shah met some Kuki groups in Delhi. After Mr. Shah’s call for 15-day peace during his visit to Manipur from May 29-June 1, series of violent incidents and road blockades were reported in the State. As a follow-up, Mr. Shah met some Kuki representatives in Delhi, a source said.
In a meeting with Mr. Sarma, the SoO groups were told that the political talks will continue after peace has prevailed in the region.
Before the violence between the Meitei and the Kuki communities in May, the SoO groups had held several rounds of negotiation with the Central Government. The pact was signed in wake of the Kuki-Naga clashes in the 1990s when hundreds were killed. The militant groups demanded independent land for the Kukis.
The SoO was signed by the two Kuki groups – the United Peoples’ Front (UPF) and the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), an umbrella of 24 insurgent groups in 2008. There are 2,200 cadres of the two groups who are supposed to stay in 14 designated camps.
Meanwhile, two prominent personalities of literature and theatre who were in the 51-member Peace Committee announced by the Centre, have sent their resignation letters to the Governor. Ratan Thiyam, a theatre personality of international fame, and Makkonmani Mongsaba, a Sahitya Academi awardee in literature cited preoccupation with their professional work for the resignation.
However, sources close to them told The Hindu that they were not pleased since their names had been included in the committee without even informing them. It is also learnt that some more prominent personalities are going to resign. Some senior journalists said that despite the important role played by the journalists in bridging the social gap no one from the profession has been included in the peace committee.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on June 10 constituted a peace committee in Manipur to facilitate peace-making process among various ethnic groups. As reported, several Kuki groups have decided to boycott the panel as Chief Minister Biren Singh and his supporters have been included in the committee.
The influential Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), a civil society group in Imphal also withdrew from the peace committee.
COCOMI convener Jeetendra Ningomba said his consent was not taken before including his name in the panel. “I cannot go against the sentiments of the people, there can be no dialogue till action is taken against narco terrorists and illegal immigrants from Myanmar,” Mr. Ningomba said.
He also met Mr. Sarma when the latter visited Imphal last week. “Assam CM told us that he will speak to Kuki leaders and sought seven days to restore peace,” Mr. Ningomba said.