Senapati – Insurgent Sanctuary

18 October 2010

Manipur remains the most violent State in India’s troubled Northeast, with all its nine Districts (four in the Valley and five in the Hills ) marred by varying degrees of extremist activities. The Senapati District, located in the Hills region, has been a focus of continuous subversion and violence in the multiple insurgencies that have engulfed the whole of Manipur for the past 46 years.

The South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database records that at least 128 persons have been killed in 110 militancy-related incidents in Senapati over the period 2001-2010 (till October 17). This includes 88 insurgents, 31 civilians and nine Security Force (SF) personnel. The past five years have seen a substantial spurt in fatalities, particularly among insurgents, and significantly as a result of fratricidal turf wars.

Located in the northern part of Manipur, the Senapati District is surrounded on the east by Ukhrul, on the west by Tamenglong, on the north by the Phek District of Nagaland, and on the south by Imphal East and Imphal West Districts. 80 percent of its 3,271 square kilometer area is covered by forests. The District’s landscape consists of blue hills, green valleys, serpentine streams and rivers flowing through mountains, and deep gorges.

The District is inhabited by Kuki, Tangkhul Naga, Mao, Maram, Poumai, Thangal, Zemai, Liangmai, Roungmei, Metei, Nepalese, Vaiphei, Chothe, Chiru and Maring communities. Its population of 379,214 is administered under six Sub-Divisions, five Police Stations and two Police Outposts.

With its substantial Kuki population, the Kuki insurgency constitutes the principal facet of the conflict dynamic in Senapati. 19 Kuki outfits under two umbrella organizations – the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF) – have signed a Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the Union Government since August 2005.

However, there has been little progress in containing the Kuki militancy in the Manipur Hills, and Senapati is no exception. ‘Area domination’ exercise carried out by warring Kuki groups have resulted in relentless internecine clashes. At least 42 cadres of the Kuki armed groups were killed and 14 others injured in as many as 16 internecine clashes in Senapati District in 2005-2010 (till October 14).

Some of the major (resulting in three or more than three killings) fratricidal clashes among Kuki armed group in Senapati District include:

February 22, 2008: Five Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA) militants were abducted and subsequently killed by suspected militants of the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA) at an unspecified place along the road leading to Thangal Surung from Ekou Bazar under Saikul Police Station.

May 25, 2008: Four KLA militants and one KRA cadre were killed during an internecine clash at New Saikhul under Saikhul Police Station.

June 9, 2008: Two Kuki National Army (KNA) cadres and one KRA cadre were killed during a factional clash between the two outfits at Molkon village under Saikul Police Station.

June 12, 2008: Three KNA cadres were killed during a factional clash with the KRA at Molkon village under Saikul Police Station. An India Reserve Battalion (IRB) trooper was also killed in the crossfire.

December 18, 2007: Three suspected Kuki National Front (KNF) cadres belonging to the Prithvi faction were killed and five others wounded by KLA militants during a factional clash at Zoulen village under Saikul Police Station.

March 13, 2007: Six militants belonging to the KNA were killed while one sustained injuries in a factional fight with the KNF at Phaijang village.

October 21, 2006: Three suspected KNA cadres were killed in an attack by militants belonging to the KRA at Ekou under Saikul Police Station.

December 15, 2005: Four militants were killed in a clash between the KNA and the Prithvi faction of the KNF at the Koubru Hill Range under Gamnom Sapermeina Police Station.

Since Senapati is abutted by the two Valley Districts, Imphal West and Imphal East, on the south, there has, at times, been an overflow of its intra-Kuki fights beyond the District border. On July 21, 2010, for instance, at least 18 militants were killed and four were injured in a gun battle between combined cadres of the KLA and KRA, on the one side, and the Prithvi faction of the KNF, on the other, in the Seijang Hill area in Imphal East, bordering the Senapati District.

Senapati figures in the projected territory of Nagalim conceived of by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland–Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), the principal militant formation that purports to champion the Naga cause. Since the District has a sizable Tangkhul Naga population and hosts several Naga community groups, including the All Naga Students’ Association Manipur (ANSAM) and the United Naga People’s Council (UNPC), sympathetic to the NSCN-IM’s agenda, the area has become a major operational area for Naga insurgents.

The NSCN-IM’s activities in Senapati are easier since the Naga-inhabited areas are located in the Hills, and the region that has remained largely immune to the direct control of the Valley-centric Manipur Government. An unauthorised camp of the NSCN-IM – established prior to the 1997 cease-fire between the Naga group and the Union Government in Nagaland – continues to exist at Bonning in Senapati District.

The NSCN-IM, in fact, engages in a variety of insurgency-related offences, including exortion, abduction, killing and the transfer of men and material, across the District.

Some important NSCN-IM related incidents in Senapati include:

May 18, 2010: A suspected NSCN-IM cadre was killed while the bomb he was planting under a bridge along the stretch of the Imphal-Mao section of the National Highway (NH)-39 in Senapati District blew up.

February 17, 2009: The dead bodies of an Ukhrul District official and two of his subordinates, who were killed by the NSCN-IM cadres due to their failure to pay ransom, were recovered in Senapati District.

January 2, 2009: 15 empty gas tankers on the way to Assam to collect cooking gas were turned back by some self-proclaimed NSCN-IM cadres at Maram in Senapati District, in connection with extraction of ‘tax’.

July 17, 2008: The NSCN-IM in the Shepoumaramth region ‘decreed’ that no contractors or agencies from the Valley area would be allowed to take up any work order in the Hill areas of Senapati District, while contractors or agencies in the hill areas should not seek any work order in the Valley area.

May 8, 2008: Many Manipur Government offices under the Deputy Commissioner of Senapati District closed down and some staff of other offices stopped attending office following a NSCN-IM diktat.

December 14, 2006: Two school children were abducted and subsequently killed by the NSCN-IM militants in Senapati District.

September 14, 2005: A NSCN-IM ‘deputy secretary’ was arrested along with three other persons following the recovery of 15,000 kilograms of narcotics, estimated at INR 150 million in the international market, which were procured from Senapati District and ferried to Dimapur in Nagaland.

March 27, 2002: Five SFs and a civilian were injured in an NSCN-IM attack at a place between Lairou and Karong villages in Senapati District on the NH-39.

The NSCN-IM has managed to keep its supremacy intact in Senapati by taking advantage of its demographic susceptibilities. On May 6, 2010, two students belonging to the Naga community were killed and 80 were injured during clashes between protestors and the Manipur Police at the Mao Gate area in Senapati.

The protestors were trying to break the Police barricade to demand safe passage for the NSCN-IM ‘general secretary’ Thuingaleng Muivah, who planned to visit his native Somdal village in the neighbouring Ukhrul District, passing through Mao Gate along the Manipur-Nagaland provincial border.

The Manipur Government constituted a magisterial inquiry into the death of the two youth, but violent protests and counter-protests had virtually paralysed normal life across the State. NH-39 (92 kilometers of which pass through Senapati, from the south end to the north end) and NH-53 were completely choked during a 68-day long economic blockade orchestrated by ANSAM and UNPC at the instigation of the NSCN-IM in April-June 2010, inflicting a loss of about INR two billion per day.

Senapati remains an easy space for mobilization by armed groups operating in the Manipur Hills and beyond. Given the tricky terrain, vulnerable demography and strategic location, as well as the patchy presence of the administration and SFs in the region, there is little scope of choking off the operations of violent sub-national movements in the District.

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