Kuki groups to press for separation from Manipur, equal political status

‘We will not go back to the pre-May 3 conditions under which negotiations were being held so far... we want to seal our borders and want to be out of Manipur,’ says a leader; authorities begin audit of weapons at Kuki camps in hill districts

May 21, 2023 09:21 pm | Updated May 22, 2023 08:28 am IST - New Delhi

Posters put by the Kuki groups demanding their land rights at Churachandpur district of Manipur on May 17, 2023.

Posters put by the Kuki groups demanding their land rights at Churachandpur district of Manipur on May 17, 2023. | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

The Kuki insurgent groups which signed a suspension of operations (SoO) with the Manipur government and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in 2008 are going to press for a separate administration and equal political status for the Kuki-Zo community, separate from Manipur but within the Union of India, one of the leaders told The Hindu.

On May 3, when ethnic violence swept Manipur, leading to the death of more than 70 people, the United Peoples’ Front (UPF) and the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) were holding talks with MHA’s representative A.K. Mishra in Delhi and had reached a settlement for the decades-old issue. The groups had agreed for a self governance model in the form of territorial council for the Kukis in the State of Manipur.

“We will not go back to the pre-May 3 conditions under which negotiations were being held so far. We want to seal our borders and want to be out of Manipur. Earlier we had almost settled the deal for territorial councils,” the leader said in condition of anonymity.

Earlier, ten legislators from the hill districts of Manipur, which includes seven from the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah, demanded a separate administration as the “State miserably failed to protect” them when the violence started on May 3.

On March 10, the Manipur Cabinet decided to withdraw from the tripartite SoO agreement with the Kuki National Army (KNA) and Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), two hill-based insurgent groups.

Editorial | Ethnic quagmire: On the Manipur violence

Days before this, on March 1, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), also a signatory, extended the SoO with UPF and KNO for another year. The SoO was formalised with the two Kuki groups, an umbrella of 24 insurgent groups in 2008. A central government official said that State government’s withdrawal does not mean much as it was a tripartite agreement.

Kuldiep Singh, security adviser, Manipur government told The Hindu that authorities are conducting a security audit at the camps of Kuki insurgent groups in the hill districts of Manipur amid allegations reports that weapons deposited as part SoO were likely used in the recent ethnic clashes. The Congress party and the Kuki legislators, including those from the BJP have accused the Aarambai Tenggol, a Meitei outfit floated a couple of years ago for stealing arms from police camps in Manipur.

“We are carrying out inspections at camps of SoO groups. Earlier only the locks of the trunks where the weapons were stored were checked, now we have asked the locks to be opened and each weapon counted. There are two keys, each with the SoO groups and the Assam Rifles. At one camp, some weapons were found to be few in number, but per the pact they can be used by cadres for defending the camps,” Mr. Singh said.

Mr. Singh said there were 2200 cadres of the SoO groups in 14 designated camps. They are also entitled for a monthly stipend of Rs 6,000 per cadre. A KNO representative said that the stipends were erratic and sometimes were not released for 14-15 months.

Mr. Singh said that out of 1,420 weapons looted from police armoury, 488 have been recovered so far.

“We had appealed people to deposit the looted weapons. The period of appeal is over now, we will begin a crackdown and a thorough investigation will be done,” Mr. Singh said adding that more than 2,000 First Information Reports (FIRs) have been filed so far.

He said Internet will continue to be blocked in Manipur and a “white list of instruments” is being prepared. “The situation is not conducive for restoring mobile Internet. We are creating a white list and computers which will have permission will get access to Internet. It will be machine specific with no wi-fi facility,” Mr. Singh said.

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