Naga Factionalism Escalates
There seems to be no end to the fratricidal rivalry among the Nagas, which has persisted since the formation of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) and NSCN-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) following the split of the original NSCN on April 30, 1988.
By South Asia Intelligence Review/IBNS
More recently, turf wars between Naga groups have resulted in escalating violence since the further split of both the NSCN-IM and the NSCN-K. The NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, a ‘splinter group’ of NSCN-K, was formed on June 7, 2011; and the Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) on February 25, 2011.
The NSCN-Khole-Kitovi faction was formed after the ‘expulsion’ of the NSCN-K’s ‘chairman’ S.S Khaplang by the dissenting group, on June 7, 2011, for Khaplang’s alleged ‘dictatorial leadership’. While Khaplang and the cadres who chose to remain loyal to him continued to identify themselves as NSCN-K, the other faction, which ‘expelled‘ Khaplang, came to be known as NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, under the leadership of Khole Konyak and Kitovi Zhimomi. The two factions were initially involved in war of words with the NSCN-K declaring that Khole and Kitovi Zhimomi (leaders of the new faction) had become “prisoners of the NSCN-IM”. Earlier, the Khole-Kitovi faction had described S.S. Khaplang as a ‘Burmese national’ and asked him not to interfere in ‘Naga affairs’. Frequent and violent clashes, however, began in December 2011.
The formation of new Manipur-based Naga outfit, the Zeliangrong United front (ZUF), on February 25, 2011, added another dimension to intensifying Naga factionalism. Factional fights have frequently been witnessed both within and beyond Nagaland, in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam and also outside India’s frontier in Myanmar, where Naga groups have their base.
ZUF was formed with the proclaimed objective of protecting the interests of the Zeliangrong tribe. On its first raising day on February 25, 2012, the group denied claims that it was a breakaway faction of the NSCN-IM, though it had earlier been reported that ZUF was created when some 10 NSCN-IM cadres, who deserted the group along with arms and ammunition, joined up with NSCN-K cadres. On November 11, 2011, the NSCN-IM claimed that ZUF was formed to “challenge the (Naga) nation”. The NSCN–IM declared, “It is the duty of the Naga Army to check anti-national elements caused by the ZUF (sic). On the other hand, ZUF warned NSCN-IM, declaring that the latter group would be responsible for any ‘unfortunate incident’ that occurred in future in the ‘Zeliangrong region’ (the Zeliangrong Naga inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland). The ZUF is against NSCN-IM operations in the areas it claims as its own. The NSCN-IM had served notice on the ZUF to ‘surrender’ by March 10, 2011, or face ‘strong resistance’.
Nineteen incidents of fratricidal clashes among Naga factions have already been reported in 2012, 14 of these in Nagaland (between NSCN-K and Khole-Kitovi), two in Arunachal Pradesh (between NSCN-K and NSCN-IM), two in Manipur (one between NSCN-K and NSCN-Khole-Kitovi and the other between NSCN-IM and ZUF) and one incident in Assam (NSCN-K and NSCN-IM). These incidents have resulted in 20 fatalities (till April 15, 2012). The number of injured stands at 15. The largest proportion of fratricidal violence has been registered between the NSCN-K and the NSCN-Khole-Kitovi in Nagaland. Earlier, a sharp spike in Naga factional violence had been registered in 2011, with a total of 49 killed and 13 injured.
Factionalism was at its peak in the years 2008, 2007 and 2006 with 119 killings (79 incidents), 90 killings (62 incidents), 74 killings (60 incidents), respectively. A sharp drop in such killings in 2009 and 2010 resulted from the ‘Covenant of Reconciliation’ (CoR) signed by the top leaders of NSCN-K, NSCN-IM and the Federal Government of Nagaland / Naga National Council (FGN/NNC) on June 13, 2009, after a Naga Reconciliation meet was held in Chiang Mai in Thailand from June 1 to June 8, 2009. The CoR, however, quickly lost its effectiveness, as tribal and leadership tensions grew.
In the latest of such incidents, two militants, one from NSCN-K, identified as Tsilise, and another from NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, identified as Johnson, were killed when the two groups clashed at Sanphure village in Kiphire District of Nagaland, in the morning of March 30, 2012. An NSCN-K cadre also sustained injuries in the clash, which lasted 3 to 4 hours. Official sources indicate that the clash took place when the NSCN-K attacked the Sanphure ‘designated camp’ at Kiphire, which they claimed was ‘illegally’ occupied by NSCN-Khole-Kitovi. NSCN-K later asserted that the camp was among the four allotted to them.
On March 28, 2012, NSCN-Khole-Kitovi and NSCN-K cadres had clashed at a place between Natha Old and Natha New, on the outskirts of Zunheboto District, Nagaland, though no casualty was reported. NSCN-K claimed that firing had occurred due to “provocation” by NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, who had threatened to chase the NSCN-K out from Zunheboto.
On March 26, 2012, an NSCN-K tatar (core member) was abducted and subsequently killed by militants at Pfuchama village in Kohima District, Nagaland. The deceased had recently been released from prison, after he was arrested on charges relating to illegal possession of arms. The father of the deceased, A.K.D. Angami, the former NSCN-K ‘chairman’ for the Angami region, had been killed in his own village on February 9, 2006.
Earlier, on March 17, 2012, a kapur (area administrator) of the NSCN-Khole-Kitovi, identified as Kito Sumi, was shot dead by suspected NSCN-K cadres at Naga Hospital in Kohima. A civilian was also injured in the incident.
The worst of recent incidents occurred on March 15, 2012, when three dead bodies, suspected to be of NSCN-Khole-Kitovi cadres, were found a few hundred metres away from Chui Village Junction in Mon District, Nagaland. According to sources, the deceased were ‘arrested’ some days earlier by NSCN-K cadres, who killed them on March 14.
Other prominent factional clashes among Naga groups, within and outside Nagaland, since February 25, 2011 (formation of ZUF), include:
February 29, 2012: Suspected NSCN-K militants killed two NSCN-Khole-Kitovi militants, identified as Khamhi Konyak and Lemnyu Konyak, at Phomching Town under Mon District.
February 5, 2012: Two NSCN-Khole-Kitovi cadres, identified as one 'sergeant major' Thangboi and 'corporal' Jackson Kuki, were killed, and another was injured, after NSCN-K cadres attacked a 'mobile camp' of NSCN-Khole-Kitovi on the outskirts of Athibung area in Peren District, Nagaland.
January 8, 2012: NSCN-IM claimed that two militants belonging to NSCN-K were killed and four were injured, when the latter attacked the NSCN-IM camp in Chasha village in Tirap District, Arunachal Pradesh.
October 7, 2011: Six cadres of the NSCN-IM were killed and another five were injured during an ambush by ZUF cadres at Leishok village in the Nungba sub-division of the Tamenglong District in Manipur. About 60 NSCN-IM cadres were travelling to the village in two trucks, when they came under attack. Referring to the October 7 shootout, the ZUF stated, on October 13, 2011 that it was a ‘sad incident’ caused by an intrusion by ‘outsiders’ (NSCN-IM), which had disturbed the peaceful atmosphere: “It is natural for us to protect our land and we are doing it with our own volition.”
In Tirap-Changlang (Arunachal Pradesh), violence has been going on for nearly a decade, as the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K engage in a contest to secure dominance over the two strategically located Districts in Eastern Arunachal Pradesh. These Districts serve as a crucial transit route for militants from India’s north-east, who take shelter in largely un-administered areas of Myanmar. The Nungba sub-division of Tamenglong District, Manipur, is afflicted by the NSCN-IM, ZUF confrontation. Myanmar is the turf where NSCN-IM and NSCN-K fight for supremacy. The last such incident in Myanmar took place on February 28, 2011, when severe fighting broke out between NSCN-K and NSCN-IM cadres somewhere inside Myanmar. At least two NSCN-K cadres were reportedly injured in the fighting.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, on February 29, 2012, decried the rising factionalism among Nagas, observing, “Though the world and outsiders recognize Naga people, yet Naga people themselves do not recognize each other and though Nagas have ceasefire with others, they do not have ceasefire among themselves.” Questioning the rationale of the fratricidal war, Nagaland Home Minister Imkong L. Imchen, stated, on April 2, 2012, “Killing of Nagas by the Nagas is not a demonstration or reflection of Naga nationalism and has got nothing to do with Naga political issue but it amounts to criminal offence only (sic).”
Rising Naga factionalism has disturbed an otherwise fast-improving security scenario in Nagaland. From its recent peak of 145 fatalities, including 101 militants, 42 civilians and two Security Force (SF) personnel, in 2008, fatalities within the State had come down to just three (all militants) in 2010. Fratricidal battles have, moreover, marginalized all reconciliation efforts initiated by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR). The FNR, in its “Naga Reconciliation Meeting” on February 29, 2012, adopted a resolution which “calls upon all armed confrontations to cease with immediate effect, from this day February 29, 2012, and to decisively take steps towards Naga reconciliation”. The call failed to unite the Nagas, and to end the violence.
SFs have, through all this, inclined to keep off the internecine conflicts between various Naga factions, in a complete abdication of state responsibility. The various cease fire agreements with the principal insurgent groups have long prevented state agencies from taking effective action, despite endemic violations of ‘ground rules’ by the insurgents and various patterns of lawlessness, including enveloping extortion – projected as ‘taxation’ by various groups in their areas of dominance – as well as acts of violence and intimidation, including those relating to factional turf wars. The cease fire agreements have held since the first of these was signed between the Centre and the NSCN-IM in 1997, and timorous state agencies have been unwilling to challenge local dominance of various groups in order to impose the law of the land, since. Significant motivation for factional proliferation and violence arises out of the vast revenues and power exercised by the various insurgent groups, and this is accentuated by divergent tribal identities and loyalties. Ceasefires notwithstanding, the people of Nagaland, it seems, will have to wait much longer before they can experience a real peace.
(The view expressed in the article is of the author and not India Blooms News Service)
(The writer Veronica Khangchian is Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)