Arunachal Pradesh: Insurgent Overflows

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Oracle, Jun 29, 2010.

  1. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

    Mar 31, 2010
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    Bangalore, India
    By Sandipani Dash

    Arunachal Pradesh
    — one of India's most critical frontiers, along China's Tibet region — remains at the receiving end of a spillover of insurgencies from the rest of the country's troubled Northeast.

    What adds to Arunachal's woes is its geographical contiguity to Myanmar, which is now the lone safe haven for the militant groups of India's Northeast, since their alternative refuge in Bangladesh was shut down by the Shiekh Hasina regime.

    There is a constant overflow of the Naga insurgency into Arunachal territory, which has long been a hunting-ground for the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Khaplang (NSCN-K). These warring groups have been in cease-fire agreements with the Union Government since 1997 and 2001, respectively, but the terms of the cease-fire apply only to the territory of Nagaland - a loophole that the militants have exploited to engage in continuous armed activities in neighboring States.

    Meanwhile, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, on July 28, 2009, expressed concern in Parliament over the violation of the cease-fire agreements by both the groups active in the Tirap and Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh.

    The NSCN-IM has engaged in extortion and has also employed some locals for the purpose. Further, the Naga group targeted political activists in the run-up to the Arunchal Pradesh Assembly Election held on October 13, 2009.

    What makes cease-fire violation much more glaring is the Naga fratricide carrying over into Arunachal territory, where the Assam-based United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and the Manipur-based United National Liberation Front (UNLF) have also become party to area-domination exercises by the NSCN groupings. In one incident on March 12, 2009, at least four militants were killed during a clash between the combined cadres of the NSCN-K, UNLF and ULFA, on one side, and the NSCN-IM on the other, in Tirap District. Again, on March 13, 2009, two NSCN-IM militants and a cadre of the rival NSCN-K were killed in two separate factional clashes in the same District. On March 19, 2009, another clash between the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K occurred at Lapnam village in Tirap District. While some sources claimed that two NSCN-IM militants were killed, others reported that three NSCN-K cadres were killed in this clash.

    The struggle for area-domination in Arunachal Pradesh is a function of the recruitment drive in the Naga-populated regions of the State. A December 1, 2009, report, for instance, mentioned that 14 youth were abducted from Ninu village under Wakka Circle of Tirap District in November 2009 by the NSCN-IM, as part of its ongoing recruitment exercise. According to another source, a local man of Ninu Village, suspected to be an NSCN-IM cadre, had reportedly recruited 16 youths from the village, besides two from Longsom, three from Bera and one from Khonsa, in the District, with a target to recruit 50 youth from Khonsa, Longding and Kanubari Circles. The report added that the District Administration was not sure whether the youth had been abducted or had voluntarily joined the outfit.

    Reports also mentioned that the ULFA and NSCN-K were conducting joint training for 30 newly recruited ULFA cadres in Mahadevpur, Pongchau and Bordumsa Circles of Lohit, Tirap and Changlang Districts, respectively, in anticipation of a possible Army crackdown in Assam and Nagaland. The All Arunachal Pradesh Students' Union (AAPSU) also disclosed that 18 youth, aged between 18 and 23, were recruited by the Khaplang group from Pongchau circle in Tirap District on November 19, 2009.

    There is a significant Naga population in Tirap and Changlang Districts, provoking frequent intrusions by the warring Naga factions for their ongoing recruitment drive. Tirap District shares a State border with Nagaland and Assam, an international border with Myanmar and a District border with Changlang. Much of its tribal population consists of the Naga-related Nocte, Konyak and Wancho community. Tirap is used by insurgents as a transit route from Myanmar. The NSCN-IM has, over the years, managed to reverse the domination that its bete noire, the NSCN-K, had earlier established across this vital Naga populated Arunachal corridor. The NSCN-IM has, in fact, extended its recruitment network beyond its traditional catchments zones in the State.

    The Assam Police, on the basis of confessional statement of an NSCN-IM cadre arrested in May 2009, disclosed that many youth from the West Siang District in Arurnchal Pradesh and the bordering areas of Assam had recently joined the Naga group and were being trained at Camp Hebron near Dimapur in Nagaland. "The recruitment process is still on," a Police official noted. However, the Naga militants' campaigns to make Changlang part of the projected Nagalim (Greater Nagaland) have substantially failed to take off, due to their rejection by the locals, including the Wancho and Nocte tribes, in the District.

    Nevertheless, the Naga populated Arunachal corridor has emerged as one of the principal routes for a frontal militant formation like ULFA to carry out its focused activities in upper Assam, through cadres based in Myanmar.

    The ULFA's dependence on its camps in Myanmar has become all the more acute after the crackdown in Bangladesh due to change in regime after the December 2008 General Elections (the group had already lost all its bases in Bhutan after the Army crackdown of December 2003 in that country).

    This increasing dependence has deepened existing ties, which ULFA cadres had developed with the NSCN-K while using its camps in the Sagaing Division of Myanmar. The pressures on the ULFA to join hands with the NSCN-K in the recruitment drive in Arunachal increased dramatically as a result of the need to replenish the cadre crunch the group has faced in upper Assam, as a result of the unilateral cease-fire declared by leaders of the 'A and C companies' of ULFA's striking "28th Battalion" in June 2008.

    A leader of the pro-talks group of the ULFA disclosed that the NSCN-K had been providing logistical support to the ULFA in exchange of money for a long time. There were several militant camps in Arunachal Pradesh, bordering Nagaland, where ULFA militants would take shelter with Khaplang militants.

    The NSCN-K also entered into a functional alliance with the UNLF in Manipur and the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) in Myanmar during the course of its operations in Arunachal territory. Newly recruited NSCN-K cadres undergo training under the guidance of the KIA in the Sagaing region of Myanmar. "NSCN-K has turned to the Kachin Independent Army for logistical help to build up bases in the twin districts of Arunachal Pradesh — Tirap and Changlang — and heavily armed KIA fighters have already entered these two districts along the Indo-Myanmar border," an unnamed senior Police official said.

    The NSCN-IM has a similar operational understanding with the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in Assam, for logistics such as training, movement and arms procurement from Myanmar, with transit through the Arunachal corridor. The General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 3 Corps, Lieutenant General N.K. Singh, declared that there were approximately 40 to 50 camps of the Northeast-based militant groups in Myanmar. He revealed that, out of these camps, 25 to 30 were identified as bigger camps or of established nature, while the remaining were 'temporary'.
    Another source of concern for Arunachal Pradesh is the steady procurement of arms by Northeast militants from neighboring China.

    Sources indicate that a major modernization drive in the Chinese Army has released vast quantities of old weapons, some of which are being offloaded to arms dealers, to reach militant groups. Weapons, including AK series rifles, MI 15 rifles, LMGs and ammunition, discarded by the Chinese Army, are still good enough for militant groups.

    There is official confirmation of frequent visits by Northeast Indian militant leaders to China. The ULFA 'commander-in-chief' Paresh Barua had been traced to Ruili in the Yunan Province of China, bordering Myanmar. Military sources indicate, "Most of the arms deals are struck at Ruili and from there the Chinese arms are brought to Bamo in Myanmar, from where they are routed to different places, mostly through the Irrawaddy and its tributaries.

    ULFA and other militant outfits of the northeast also bring their arms and ammunition through this route... Since the Myanmar junta and... (Myanmarese) rebel groups are in ceasefire, the Indian insurgent outfits like NSCN-K, ULFA, and Meitei groups of Manipur have found safe haven in the areas under control of the Kachin and Wa rebels (in Myanmar)."

    Sources mentioned, further, that after the Bangladesh Government had stepped up action against the ULFA, Barua shifted base to the China-Myanmar border and also set up camp in rebel-administered areas in Myanmar's Kachin territory.

    Meanwhile, Tirap and Changalang, on one side, and Lohit, Upper and Lower Dibang Valleys, on the other, across the Arunachal corridor, remain the principal transit routes for the ULFA for its respective transfer of men and material from both Myanmar and China.

    The densely forested terrain along the Arunachal-Assam border also provides safe haven to the ULFA and NDFB. Both the groups have reportedly heightened their activities in as many as six Districts of Arunachal Pradesh: East Siang, West Siang, Lower Dibang Valley, Upper Dibang Valley, Lohit and Papum Pare. Arunachal Pradesh Home Minister Tako Dabi, on January 10, 2010, stated that he had recently toured and taken stock of the situation in Mebo and the adjoining areas of East Siang, and the Likabali area of West Siang, where NDFB and ULFA cadres were engaged in extortion activities.

    He said these outfits' cadres were also smuggling timber from the forests in Seijosa in East Kameng and the Balijan area of Papum Pare District. Deputy Inspector-General of Police (East Range), Tashi Lama, confirmed, further, "The substantial presence of ULFA cadres in East Siang, West Siang, Upper and Lower Dibang Valley Districts, besides movements of NDFB militants in belts of Papum Pare and East Kameng Districts, have raised security concerns in the State."

    Another Police officer in East Kameng District stated that NDFB cadres had intensified extortion activities and set up camps in Seijosa, adding that the fact that a suspected NDFB cadre was shot dead in a joint operation in the Khanamukh area under Missamari Police Station of Sonitpur District in Assam, bordering East Kameng District, on January 5, 2010, indicated that the violent anti-talk faction of the Bodo group was quite active in the area.

    The Arunachal Pradesh Government has sought the Assam Government's help in conducting joint counter-insurgency (CI) operations to flush out ULFA and NDFB militants sheltering in forest areas along the inter-State border. Arunachal Home Minister Tako Dabi, stated, on January 10, 2010, "As the Home Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, I prioritised the matter with urgency and sought help from Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi to destroy the hideouts in the Districts... Gogoi assured all possible help from his side and considered a joint strike involving the forces of both the states and the Army to tackle the rebels."

    The Minister added that the Arunachal Pradesh Police had launched three offensives in a span of two months to drive out militants from the forests of bordering Districts. "The security scenario in Tirap and Changlang has showed signs of improvement with the recent surrender of NSCN rebels in Khonsa. However, the situation in East Siang, West Siang, Lower Dibang Valley, Upper Dibang Valley, Lohit and Papum Pare remains a concern because of the presence of Ulfa and NDFB militants," the Minister stated.

    The Army has revealed constraints on its CI responses in the shape of joint militant encampments in the conjoining border region. There was concrete evidence regarding ULFA militants taking shelter in NSCN-K camps in Nagaland, bordering Myanmar, and also at a few places along the Nagaland-Arunachal border. An Army officer stated, on December 22, 2009, "Our spotters have located these camps but the fear is that there are also a large number of Naga militants there and we do not want any kind of confrontation with the NSCN" [since the NSCN-K group is in cease-fire with the Centre].

    With the source of the insurgency in Arunachal Pradesh located in territories beyond the State's borders, and the absence of unity of purpose and a coordinated strategy across the Northeast region, there is little scope of ending the overflow of militancy within the existing CI framework.

    (**The writer is a Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management)

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