A state of drift

Published : Aug 04, 2001 00:00 IST

Three weeks after violence erupted in Manipur against the extension of the ceasefire between the Union government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) to Naga-dominated areas outside Nagaland, the government finds itself under pressure to seek a review of the agreement.

THE existing ceasefire agreement between the Union government and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isaac-Muivah) expired on July 31, and the security agencies, especially the Army, do not what role they would play now in the Naga-inhabited areas outside Nagaland. This is because the government is reviewing, following violent protests in Manipur, the agreement that extended the ceasefire to Naga-dominated areas in Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

The ground realities in the insurgency-affected northeastern States suggest that the new ceasefire, signed in Bangkok on June 14, will be as ineffectual as the earlier ones. Moreover, incidents of large-scale extortion, kidnapping for ransom, intimidation and violation of the terms of all ceasefire agreements since 1997, by both the Isaac-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the NSCN, present a particularly gloomy picture as far as the success of the latest peace initiative is concerned. "There have been regular violations of several clauses of the ceasefire. Apart from extortion and kidnapping, moving around with arms and factional clashes between the outfits have occurred frequently," said Brigadier B.B. Deo, Brigadier General Staff of Army Operations in Nagaland. The last ceasefire agreement, which came into force on January 13, stipulated that the NSCN(I-M) would not undertake operations such as ambushes, raids and sniping. It had also been agreed that the NSCN(I-M) would not block roads and communication, or disrupt economic or developmental activities. However, the organisation violated several of these terms in the last four years.

Meanwhile , the situation in Manipur remains grim as the curfew imposed after the large-scale violence against the ceasefire extension on June 18 is still in force in many areas in the Imphal valley and the hills. On July 23, during a 24-hour general strike against the extension of ceasefire, houses of State legislators and senior government officials were attacked by activists of the United Committee of Manipur (UCM), an organisation of student and youth groups formed to spearhead the anti-ceasefire movement. Agitators torched the house of Manipur State Congress Party (MSCP) Member of the Legislative Assembly and former Power Minister Govindas Konthoujam. Protesters also damaged the house of the Bharatiya Janata Party's legislature wing leader and former Chief Minister R.K. Dorendra Singh. The agitators alleged that the State's politicians were busy quarrelling among themselves and plotting for power instead of seeking to protect the State's integrity. Fearing attacks, most of Manipur's legislators have taken shelter in Delhi. Various State and Central government offices have stopped functioning owing to the indefinite "civil disobedience" called for by the UCM.

Nagas, fearing attacks from the protesters, are leaving the Imphal valley for remote villages in Naga-dominated Ukhrul and Senapati districts bordering Nagaland. Tension is running high in these areas as hundreds of Nagas from Nagaland are entering Ukhrul to organise meetings welcoming the new agreement.

Surprisingly, the new ceasefire agreement has created differences among the various insurgent outfits in the northeastern States, which had once worked together. The banned United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) warned that if New Delhi did not revoke the extension of the ceasefire beyond Nagaland, the uprising in Manipur would turn into a secessionist movement. The ULFA called upon the NSCN(I-M) to withdraw its demand for the ceasefire extension and to avoid being projected as a "chauvinistic" outfit. In the latest issue of its mouthpiece Freedom, ULFA expressed surprise that the "Naga revolutionary leaders took the responsibility of enveloping the areas of other people in their projected map of Nagaland". (The NSCN(I-M) has prepared its own map of "Greater Nagalim", which includes a large part of Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.) Insurgent organisations such as the People's Liberation Army, the People's Revolutionary Party of Kanglaeipak and the Kanglaeipak Communist Party operating in Manipur, which once had close links with the Naga insurgent groups, have turned against the NSCN(I-M).

The anti-ceasefire extension protests have now reached Arunachal Pradesh, with different organisations holding rallies, mainly in Tirap district bordering Nagaland. The protesters demanded immediate withdrawal of the truce extension. Like Manipuris, the people of Arunachal Pradesh think that the extension of the ceasefire to all Naga-inhabited areas beyond Nagaland is a step in the direction of conceding the NSCN(I-M)'s demand for a "Greater Nagalim".

The Centre's move to review the ceasefire agreement has evoked sharp reactions from political parties and important organisations in Nagaland. The Nagaland People's Council (NPC) said any attempt to backtrack from the hard-bargained ceasefire accord would derail the entire peace process.

The Government of India has initiated a fresh round of talks with the NSCN(I-M). Intelligence sources said that the government's interlocutor, former Union Home Secretary K. Padmanabhaiah, left for Amsterdam on July 22 to meet Thuingaleng Muivah, chief of the NSCN(I-M). Padmanabha-iah is expected to request Muivah to withdraw his demand for an extension of the ceasefire beyond Nagaland. Muivah, who was arrested in Thailand in January 2000 when he entered Bangkok from Karachi on a fake passport, flew to Amsterdam from Thailand on an Indian passport. Muivah was provided with an Indian passport because there was the possibility that he could have been deported to Pakistan by the Thai government. Moreover, Muivah is currently on bail on condition that he should not leave Thailand until the trial against him in Bangkok on two separate charges of entering the country by using forged travel documents and attempting to flee the country using a fake passport is over.

Meanwhile, Members of Parliament from the Opposition parties, especially those from the northeastern States, attacked the Union government in the Lok Sabha for "the messing up of the North-east through the ill-thought-out extension of ceasefire with the NSCN(I-M) beyond the borders of Nagaland". Raising the issue during zero hour on July 24, the second day of the monsoon session, leaders of the Congress(I), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), the Samajwadi Janata Party (SJP) and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) denounced the high-handedness of the Centre in taking such a sensitive decision "without even caring to take the Chief Ministers of the region into confidence". Citing the unabated violence in Manipur and other States, veteran CPI(M) leader Somnath Chatterjee said: "The government is fiddling when Manipur is burning."

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