Nagaland: The Vanity of Hope
On November 27, 2011, a deserter from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Unification (NSCN-U), identified as Herato Sumi, was killed by cadres of the organization in a four-hour gun fight at Sailhem in the Peren District near the Assam border.
By South Asia Intelligence Review/IBNS
Another deserter, Vihuto, escaped with bullet injuries. The duo was allegedly involved in the killing of one Daniel Yeptho at a place between Tokiye Town and Viyilho village under the Zunheboto District on November 19. They were also alleged to have been involved in the shooting and injuring of a Sanskrit teacher of the Sainik School at Punglwa in Peren District on November 26.
Reports indicate that Sumi and Vihuto had been 'on the run' since an incident on November 18 at Tokiye town under Aghunato sub-division during an hour-long gun battle among NSCN-U cadres, when a 38-member NSCN-U team went on a touring patrol in the Tokiye area under the command of "Captain" Hokugha. Sumi and Vihuto deserted with their weapons after the gun battle.
The infamous fratricidal war amongst the Nagas has escalated through 2011, both within and beyond the State's frontiers.
According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database, at least 45 persons were killed and three injured in 10 fratricidal clashes in 2011 (all data till December 11). The number of persons killed and injured in two such incidents stood at two each, respectively, in 2010.
There were three fratricidal incidents among Naga groups within the State, through 2011. On June 4, one NSCN-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) militant, identified as Nechizo of the 'Naga Army' (NSCN-IM's armed wing) was killed by Naga National Council (NNC) cadres in the Phek District. Another NSCN-IM cadre was killed when a group of NSCN-IM cadres attacked a camp belonging to the NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K) near Old Thewati village in Phek District on March 15. Two days later, on March 17, 'Brigadier' Chipu Menon, the NSCN-K 'head' in Tirap, was killed by another NSCN-K cadre in the Mon District. Sources indicated that Menon was summoned from Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh to Mon in Nagaland by higher-ups, to sort out issues related to 'organizational management', which included disciplinary and financial matters. Menon had earlier been warned to "abide by the organizational discipline" but "did not pay any heed."
In the worst such incident outside Nagaland, intelligence sources disclosed that over 35 cadres of NSCN-K and NSCN-IM were killed in the night of February 24-25, 2011, on the Tirap-Myanmar border. The IM faction lost 30 of its cadres when their 100-strong armed group, trying to enter Tirap from Myanmar's Sagiang Division, was ambushed by the rival Khaplang faction. The Khaplang faction lost about five of its cadres. Again, on July 13, a fierce shootout was reported between NSCN-IM and NSCN-K cadres at Kothin, 35 kilometres off Khonsa, the District headquarters of Tirap District. Security Forces (SFs), however, could not recover any dead bodies, though they found blood splattered everywhere. Earlier, two NSCN-K cadres were injured during a factional clash on February 28 in Myanmar.
Fratricidal clashes between NSCN-IM and Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) cadres, a new Manipur based Naga militant outfit, were also reported. In fact, since its formation on February 25, 2011, ZUF has been involved in four violent incidents with the NSCN-IM. As many as six NSCN-IM and one ZUF cadres have been killed, while six NSCN-IM cadres were injured.
In another significant development, a group of top leaders of the NSCN-K, led by Khole Konyak, broke away to form a new group on June 7, 2011, by announcing the expulsion of NSCN-K 'chairman', S.S. Khaplang. Since the split, the two factions - NSCN-K and NSCN-Khole-Kitovi - have been at 'war' with each other. Though no violent clashes have been reported, a war of words has broken out, with NSCN-K on September 2, accusing 'chairman' Khole and 'secretary' N. Kitovi Zhimomi of the new faction of having become 'prisoners of the NSCN-IM'. On July 10, the new faction had described Khaplang as a 'Burmese national' and asked him not to interfere in Naga affairs.
Meanwhile, insurgency related fatalities within Nagaland have risen from just three in 2010 to 10 in 2011. More worryingly, seven civilians were killed in six incidents in 2011. There were no such killings in 2010. The last civilian killing before the spike this year was reported on July 23, 2009. While the number of militants killed remained the same (three) in both 2010 and 2011, there has been no SF casualty since May 11, 2008.
Notably, fatalities in the State have declined sharply since 2008, following the signing of the Covenant of Reconciliation (CoR) by top leaders of the NSCN-IM, NSCN-K, and 'Federal Government of Nagaland'-Naga National Council (FGN/NNC) on June 13, 2009, after a Naga Reconciliation meet held in Chiang Mai in Thailand from June 1 to June 8, 2009. The Covenant was reaffirmed on September 18, 2010. The 'highest level meeting' of the Naga Reconciliation Committee, which was to be held during the visit of NSCN-IM leaders to Dimapur in March 2011, however, could not take place due to the sudden review of the decision by the NSCN-K. Unlike in the preceding two years, following the signing of the CoR under the aegis of Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR), FNR efforts were marginalized by intense factional fights during the year. Nevertheless, on December 5, 2011, members of the High Level Commission (HLC) of the 'Naga Concordant' represented by leaders from the three groups NSCN-IM, NNC and NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, reaffirmed their commitment to the Naga Reconciliation and to remain firm in their pledge to work towards "building a shared Naga future." The 'Naga Concordant' is a joint declaration signed by all the six leaders - Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah of NSCN-IM, 'General' Khole Konyak and N. Kitovi Zhimomi of NSCN-Khole-Kitovi and 'Brigadier' S. Singnya and Zhopra Vero of NNC, after they resolved "in principle", on August 26, 2011, to work towards the formation of one "Naga National Government".
Nagaland also witnessed an increased number of abductions, incidents of extortion, and other violent acts. Six incidents of abductions were recorded in 2011, as against two in 2010. SATP data registers 12 incidents of extortion in 2011, as against nine in 2010. [Recorded incidents are likely to be a fraction of actual incidents in cases of abduction and extortion].
In an incident of abduction for extortion, on May 10, a business man was abducted by suspected NSCN-IM militants from the Walford area in Dimapur District. His bullet-riddled body was later found in the 7th Mile area of the District on May 12. According to sources, the abductors had sought an INR 30 million ransom from the trader`s family. In another incident, on September 15, unidentified militants abducted Tushar Mehra, a student, from Dimapur and demanded INR five million for his safe release. He was released on September 17. Police claimed no money was paid.
In a daring act, Naga militant factions demanded that all Nagaland Government Departments, except the Police and District administration, pay an 'annual salary tax' for the year 2011, at 24 percent of one month's pay for a year. This was revealed to the Police on May 12 by a 'reliable source'. Unsurprisingly, a December 8, 2011, media report stated that various Naga militant factions impose 'taxes' on all State Government employees, private businesses and the general population - with the total pegged at an estimated INR 13 billion each year. When asked how such 'tax collection' from Government employees continued unhindered, State Home Minister Imkong L. Imchen stated, "Unfortunately, some Government employees are collaborating with the underground groups. We have been taking certain steps, but I don't think it would be appropriate to discuss my strategy with the media." Earlier, on September 15, he had informed the State Assembly that a total of 528 persons had been arrested in and around Dimapur and Kohima from 2008 to June 2011, in connection with extortion.
The State recorded a total of 56 militant arrests in 2011, as against 76 in 2010. In an important development, on December 7, 2011, SFs arrested 'major' S. Johnson, stated to be the second-in-command of the Oklong camp of the NSCN-IM in Senapati District. On April 15, two NSCN-K militants, identified as Tatar (core member) Vihele, and 'sectional officer' Peter, were reportedly arrested by the Assam Rifles in Forest Colony in Kohima District.
Evidently, the SFs continued to avoid engaging the militants. No encounter between the SFs and the militants has been recorded since April 25, 2008. While the militants continue to breach the terms of the cease-fire agreements and to strengthen their armed capacities as well enrich their coffers through extortion and other crimes, the political masters of the State have forced the SFs to abide by the "sanctity of the cease-fire."
With unabated factional fights between various Naga outfits, rampant violations of the CoR, never-ending 'peace talks' between the NSCN-IM and the Government of India with no solution in sight, rampant extortion, abduction and violation of ceasefire ground rules, and a reported nexus between rebels and Government employees, Nagaland remains entangled in a web of crises, and all hopes of an abiding peace among the Nagas go in vain.
(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)