Kidnapping, a thriving business in Manipur

IMPHAL APRIL 9. Heinrich Wolfgang, a German national, who was abducted by the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA) since March 23, was released today evening. This is the latest instance of the growing menace of kidnapping for ransom that has afflicted the northeastern region.

The Manipur People's Liberation Front (MPLF), formed by three major underground organisations — the UNLF, the RPF and the PREPAK — has expressed concern over the growth of such armed groups whose activities create confusion among people.

In Assam, a boy was kept in captivity for months and released only when his father paid a huge sum of money as ransom. In Meghalaya, doctors had to launch a "cease work strike" in protest against the abduction of a senior doctor. He was released after several weeks. Officials agree that kidnapping has become a thriving business in Manipur with reports received every second or third day. There are almost daily reports of looting of bus passengers on national highways 39 and 53 which are the only lifelines for Manipur which has no rail link.

Several presspersons had fallen victims to such highway robberies. Tribals carrying antique .303 bolt rifles stop buses and private vehicles and loot everything of value. If the drivers don't give in, the windscreens are smashed. The tribals strike in the stretch between Pallel and Tengnoupal along NH 39. On NH 53, armed tribals operate around an area of about 50 km of Noney. However, the Chief Minister, Okram Ibobi, also in-charge of Home, has been refusing to deploy paramilitary forces in these strongholds of the highway robbers.

Late last year two journalists were among those kidnapped by some tribal militants. After being detained for three nights and days they were set free. Traders, businessmen and affluent persons who have to pay big ransoms after being kidnapped never complain to the police. A south Indian trader at Moreh along the Indo-Myanmarese border said there was "no point in incurring the wrath of the armed looters" since all traders are "at their mercy and will have to pay for the adverse publicity".

After kidnapping the hostages are whisked away to nondescript remote tribal villages, which can be reached through game trails. No police or security personnel ever go to these villages.

Even in the past several big businessmen and their children used to be kidnapped for big ransom. Those who could not pay because of police intervention lost their kin.

Last month an eight-year-old son of a Minister was about to be kidnapped by some armed persons from a kindergarten. However, the alert headmistress informed the Minister who is a tribal since the youths were non-tribals and something was not quite right. While individual kidnappings here and there can never be prevented, many feel that even a token presence of the security forces along the national highways would be of help.