The incidents of weapons having been looted from the Manipur police and IRB armouries in the first week of May were covered in the mainstream media. The official figures are 4,500 weapons and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. However, according to sources on the ground, these weapons were not looted but were “distributed” to the Meitei in Imphal Valley, which could not have happened without the directions of the state government. This is why the “distribution” part was absent from the media. Little wonder that despite much noise, only a minuscule number of weapons have been recovered.
The ongoing violence has already claimed over 190 lives with over 60,000 displaced and yet the ethnic clashes between the Meitei (Hindu) and Kuki-Zo (Christian) are continuing despite the state government having about one lakh boots on the ground at its disposal.
The situation in Manipur has gone well past simple Meitei-Kuki ethnic hostility to well-armed factions on both sides, including terrorist organisations like KYKL and ZRA. Manipur is in two halves now – Imphal Valley with the Meitei and the tribals in the hills
The Times of Israel has reported the plight of the displaced Bnei Menashe Jews of Manipur fleeing their decimated homes and burned synagogues. Isaac Thangjom, Israel-based director of ‘Degel Menashe’, has said, “For the Bnei Menashe and the rest of the people who have left Imphal, I don’t think there is any chance of them returning because there is no security. If you ask me honestly, the separation is complete.”
Due to the ethnic cleansing of Kuki-Zo in Manipur, the then Mizoram Chief Minister Zoramthanga had refused to share the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a pre-election rally in Mizoram in November. Modi had to cancel his trip and sent Defence Minister Rajnath Singh instead.
A significant event happened in June, which was deliberately not covered by the Manipur media. Based on specific information, an infantry column captured 12 armed Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL) terrorists in Manipur on June 24, 2023. These terrorists included self-styled Lt Col Moirangthem Tamba alias Uttam who had masterminded the KYKL ambush on a convoy of 6 DOGRA on June 4, 2015, in which 18 army personnel were killed.
However, a 1000-plus mob (mostly women) led by Manipur MLA Thaounaojam Shyamkumar Singh forced the infantry column to hand back these 12 terrorists. KYKL is a Meitei organisation. No action has been taken against this politician, which indicates the Centre-State nexus to use these terrorists for the ethnic cleansing of Kuki-Zo.
On November 29, Union Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted on X: “The peace agreement signed today with the UNLF by the Government of India and the Government of Manipur marks the end of a six-decade-long armed movement. It is a landmark achievement in realising PM @narendramodi Ji’s vision of all-inclusive development and providing a better future to the youths in Northeast India.”
Refugees streaming into Mizoram because of heavy fighting in the Chin State of Myanmar is a matter of concern as some of them could be Chinese agents. And, there is a possibility of KYKL and the Pambei Group of UNLF playing the Chinese game
However, on December 2, the Central Committee of UNLF issued a press release saying what was tweeted by Amit Shah is not a “Peace Agreement” but a “Peace Talks Agreement”, that too with the breakaway ‘Pambei Group’ of the UNLF, not an agreement with the UNLF. The UNLF press release further states: “According to the spokesperson of Pambei Group, their agenda for the talks will be ‘the restoration of Manipur’s sovereignty and independence.” The press release ends by saying: “Lastly, the Central Committee’s appeal to our people is not to lose hope at such act of betrayal of some groups. We vow at our stand that we will carry forward our struggle for independence till the last blood.”
The UNLF is one of the oldest insurgent organisations in our northeast. The armed wing of UNLF is the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA), also called the Manipur Peoples’ Army (MPA), which was formed on February 9, 1987. The first armed action of the MPA was against a convoy of the Central Armed Police Force (CRPF) on December 15, 1991. In 2005, the MPA’s strength was estimated to be about 2,000 armed cadres. Notably, China has been arming, training and conducting exercises for the MPA
Videos have emerged of the Pambei Group cadres roaming in open jeeps in Imphal. The UNLF press release creates doubt about whether the Pambei Group has actually signed a peace deal or has just agreed to begin peace talks. In addition, if the plan is to use them in conjunction with the Meitei armed with “looted” weapons and the KYKL cadres to ethnically fight the Kuki-Zo, then the surrender ceremony becomes notional.
The ground situation in Manipur has gone well past simple Meitei-Kuki Zo ethnic hostility to well-armed factions on both sides, including terrorist organisations like KYKL and ZRA (Zomi Revolutionary Army). Manipur is in two halves now – Imphal Valley with the Meitei and the tribal in the hills. The AR/Army guards the buffer zone but incidents of violence are continuing.
On the afternoon of December 4, 13 people were killed in a gunfight between two groups in Manipur’s Tengnoupal District on the afternoon of December 4. This indicates that ethnic strife is likely to keep Manipur burning.
The following should be of concern to our policymakers:
- The remaining armed strength of the UNLF (minus the Pembai Group) and the weapons they have.
- Refugees streaming into Mizoram because of heavy fighting in the Chin State of Myanmar; some of which could be Chinese agents.
- Refugee management in Mizoram with change of government – from MNF and ZPM, keeping in mind trans-border affiliations.
- Possibility of KYKL and the Pambei Group of UNLF playing the Chinese game – their coming over could be a well thought-out trap by China considering all northeast terrorist groups are armed by China.
The turmoil in Myanmar, China’s muscle flexing on its border with Myanmar, China’s influence over armed groups in Myanmar, joint China-Myanmar naval exercises, together with heavy PLA deployments all along the Line of Actual Control with India could be a prelude to something bigger planned by China
The turmoil in Myanmar, China’s muscle flexing on its border with Myanmar, China’s influence over armed groups in Myanmar, joint China-Myanmar naval exercises, together with heavy PLA deployments all along the Line of Actual Control with India could be a prelude to something bigger planned by China.
The sighting of a Chinese spy balloon over Imphal airport in November indicates increased Chinese interest in the region. This should be viewed in conjunction with China’s illegal claim over the entire Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese are experts in asymmetric warfare and may be planning some surprises; perceiving India is warming up to the US more than what Beijing would like.
-The writer is an Indian Army veteran. The views expressed are personal and do not necessarily carry the views of Raksha Anirveda