The Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, or NSCN (I-M) could be using a new extremist group as a front for extortion in Assam, officials of security forces engaged in counter-insurgency operations said.
A combined team of the Assam police, paramilitary forces and the Army have been probing a possible nexus between the NSCN (I-M) and the Dimasa National Liberation Army (DNLA) after the latter’s “army chief” Minom Phunglasa was caught a few months ago.
Phunglasa is alleged to have told his interrogators that the NSCN (I-M) was helping the DNLA with arms, training and shelter near Nagaland’s Dimapur town in exchange for a share of money collected as “taxes” from contractors, traders and timber dealers in Assam, primarily the adjoining hill districts of Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong.
He also named NSCN (I-M)’s “brigadier” Chiplemi Shimrang as having offered weapons and explosives to the DNLA, which was formed before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls for securing a separate State for the Dimasa community.
The security forces followed this lead, gathered intelligence in Nagaland and tracked the movement of people suspected to be DNLA members. This culminated in the May 23 encounter in which six DNLA members were gunned down “when challenged” at Dugudisha in Karbi Anlgong district.
A seventh DNLA member named Mushrang escaped from the encounter site toward Nagaland.
“The encounter site is about 1.5 km from Beisumpuikam village in Nagaland. This village, about 1 km from Hebron further inside Nagaland, is where the DNLA members stay or lie low,” an officer of a security force in Assam said.
Hebron is the peace headquarters of the NSCN (I-M), whose leaders helped give space to the DNLA at Beisumpuikam besides arranging for them to get their rations from Daniel Colony nearby, the officer said.
It was also found that the NSCN (I-M), in ceasefire mode since July 1997, trained the DNLA for three months, provided the cadres uniform and weapons. These services are paid for by the DNLA from money extorted in Assam, officials said.
“In a sense, the NSCN (I-M) has been using the DNLA as a front to operate in Assam,” the officer said.
The NSCN (I-M) has denied any link with the DNLA. “This is an attempt by the Indian security forces to tarnish our image,” a spokesperson from the outfit’s publicity wing in Dimapur said, indicating that the bid to project it as the DNLA’s mentor could be an attempt to undermine the Naga peace process.
Although formed in April 2019, the DNLA became active towards the end of 2020. It came on the radar of the security forces on January 12 this year following the arrest of a member in Dima Hasao’s Maibang. On January 27, the outfit killed Amit Nunisa, a social activist and former leader of the disbanded Dima Halam Daogah, and on March 2, a member of the DNLA was caught with a Chinese grenade near a strategic railway station in Karbi Anglong district.
The DNLA received its first setback on March 28 when its leader Black Dimasa was killed in an encounter. The trigger for an intensified operation leading to the May 23 encounter was the May 19 killing of a priest named Sanjay Ronghang by the DNLA.