The apex bodies of Kuki, Zomi and Naga tribes in Manipur on September 28 strongly objected to the Manipur government’s notification extending the operation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act for six months only in the hill districts of the State.
The steering committee of the Zomi Council (apex body for Zomi tribes in Manipur) said it had shot off a memorandum to the Union Home Minister on Thursday highlighting the “partisan mindset” and “discriminatory policies” of the Manipur government. The Kuki Inpi (apex body of Kuki tribes) and the United Naga Council (apex body of Naga tribes) both questioned the notification exempting valley regions from AFSPA. They termed the move “oppressive” and “biased”.
The Hindu had reported on Thursday that the Indian Army had recommended the extension of AFSPA in the valley regions saying the absence of it was hindering operations against insurgent groups — ones that have regained a foothold during the ongoing ethnic conflict after a lull of many years. These secessionist groups mostly operate from Myanmar.
The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, in its latest review conducted in December 2022, had recommended that imposition of AFSPA in the hill areas should be reviewed because the areas had become peaceful and had pointed out that the Act had been withdrawn in 15 police districts of the valley region.
On Thursday, the Zomi Council steering committee said it explained to the Home Minister “how the exclusion of Meitei territories and Meitei-dominated areas from the notification only once again exemplified the Manipur government’s deep-seated discrimination against the Scheduled Tribes of the State”.
It added that the newly exempted police districts in the notification “are areas where Meitei armed radicals like Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun combined forces with the proscribed Meitei insurgent groups to set up their bases”.
Kuki Inpi Manipur secretary H. Gangte said, “The fact of the matter is that the valley area is inarguably the most disturbed area in Manipur with numerous protests turning violent wherein the security forces have to resort to firing of tear gas and use of force to disperse the irate crowd as opposed to the tribal areas which are relatively peaceful with zero reports of any form of uproar or social unrest in the past few months.”
United Naga Council general secretary Vareiyo Shatsang argued that the hill areas have been relatively peaceful and that the NSCN (I-M) is already in peace talks with the government. “There is no AFSPA in the valley region. We don’t want AFSPA there but this [extending it in hill districts] is something very biased,” Mr. Shatsang told The Hindu.
The Zomi Council steering committee claimed that 80% of the roughly 175 killings since May 3 had been in areas that have been exempted from AFSPA. It called for these areas to be declared as “Disturbed Areas” under the Act.