Sumi Naga tribal siege forces insurgents to flee camp at Mukalimi

Sumi Naga tribals, armed with spears, machetes and shotguns, forced insurgents to evacuate a camp at Mukalimi in Zunheboto district of Naglaland on Monday, after a two-day siege that claimed at least three lives.

Local residents, eyewitnesses told The Hindu , burned down huts, offices and vehicles after militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muviah) fled the camp, leaving only a church standing.

The violent clashes occurred just weeks after New Delhi met representatives of the NSCN(IM) in the latest round of a long-running dialogue meant to hammer out a political compromise with the insurgent group. “New Delhi is committed to ensuring [that] the ceasefire with the NSCN-IM continues,” a senior official of the Ministry of Home Affairs said in New Delhi. “However, the siege underlines how fast public opinion in Nagaland is turning against the insurgents.”

Violent showdown

Friction started building at Mukalimi after two Suma women said they had been strip-searched at an insurgent checkpoint on December 21. The Sema Hoho, or tribal council, and Totimi Hoho, or women’s council, demanded that the militants involved be handed over to the police for prosecution.

In a statement, the NSCN(IM) said its own police — known as the Crime Suppression Division — arrested and sentenced three militants, whom it identified as Mapam Keishing, Mahori and Ninoto.

However, the Sumi Hoho rejected the NSCN(IM)’s internal punishment, demanding that legal processes be implemented instead. Local villagers responded to a call from the Hoho and laid siege to the Mukalimi camp on December 26.

Even as more than a hundred Assam Rifles personnel stood by, bound by the terms of India’s ceasefire agreement with the NSCN(IM), the insurgents in the camp opened fire on the protesters on December 28. Five protesters were killed, and one was injured. The Sumis returned the fire. Police sources say the bodies of two insurgents were found in the camp on Monday. The siege also cut off food and water supplies to the hill-top camp.

Further firing took place in the early hours of Monday, an Assam Rifles source said, but the insurgents eventually accepted a safe-passage offer facilitated by the paramilitary force.

New Delhi, a senior government official told The Hindu , hopes the fighting will force the NSCN(IM) to adopt “a more realistic posture, keeping in mind its actual ground strength and popularity.” NSCN(IM) chairman Isak Chishi Swu and general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah had met government interlocutor R.S. Pandey for two days of closed-door talks on November 21.

Mr. Pandey, a senior government official said, reiterated an earlier offer to give Naga communities in both Nagaland and Manipur similar substantial rights across the State lines — but without territorial concessions from Manipur on the Naga-inhabited areas in Tamenlong, Senapati, Ukhrul and Chandel districts.

Later, though, Mr. Pandey has resigned as interlocutor after joining the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Union government has made no fresh appointment.

The NSCN(IM)’s leadership and cadre hail from the Tangkhul sub-tribe, based in Manipur. It operates, though, in territories that are home to competing, and historically hostile, tribes. The Sumi Nagas, also known as Sema Nagas, have long competed for power and influence with the Tanghkhul Nagas, who make up the bulk of the NSCN(IM)’s leadership and cadre.

Kaito Sema, former commander-in-chief of the Naga Federal Army, was among the earliest important insurgent leaders to join democratic politics.

Earlier this year, protests against the proposed reservation for the Manipur-based Naga tribes living in Nagaland pitted the newly formed Naga Tribal Alliance against the NSCN(IM)-backed Naga Hoho, which claims to speak for the entire tribe.

“India’s negotiations with the NSCN(IM) have been driven by the belief that the insurgent group represents the people of Nagaland,” said R.N. Ravi, an expert on the region, who earlier served with the Intelligence Bureau. “That belief was simplistic, and remains simplistic.”

Protests against the NSCN(IM)’s parallel taxation structure, used to fund the insurgent group, also gathered momentum this year. Thousands defied the outfit’s calls for a rally in Dimapur on November 1 under the banner of the Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation to protest taxes imposed by underground organisations on salaries, businesses and contractors.

The former IAS officer and social activist, K.K. Sema, called for “one government, one tax.”

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