Sandip Bannerjee, NE Sun | March 31, 2013
Restlessness brews in the three already troubled hills of Manipur on the face of the Centre’s trademark strategy of procrastination and piece meal appeasement instead of clearly laid out policy of peaceful settlement. Frustration within the two dozen or so Kuki and Zomi groups who are into extended Suspension of Operations with the Center and Government of Manipur is leading to heightened tension. Amidst this, there is a more visibly concerted effort by the Zomis under the umbrella of the United People’s Front (UPF) to bring their fight for the higher cause to a just and ultimate conclusion.
With elections in the three states of Maghalaya, Nagaland and Tripura over, the United People’s Font (UPF) seeking the status of Autonomous Hill State, a more inclusive and “non-communal” approach, is riding on hope of commencement of long-delayed tripartite talks with the Government of India and Government of Manipur.
The six group under the UPF are Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), Kuki National Front-P, Zou Defence Volunteer (ZDF), Kuki Revolutionary Army-Unification (KRA-U), United Kuki Liberation Front (UKLF) and Hmar People Convention-Democratic (HPC-D). The UPF signed the tripartite SoO agreement with Government of India and Manipur in 2005 with the objective of securing a political solution.
The Zomi Revolutionary Army is the backbone of the Zomi struggle for self-determination. Yet while the Zomis have chosen to tread the path of peace uniting with other like-minded groups under the banner of the UPF, it was obvious by a visit to their Muvanlai Camp on the Manipur Myanmar Border that people might rally behind the army in the case of a complete snub to the long-voiced demands of the Zomi people.
A journey to interact with the United Peoples Front (UPF)/Zomi Re-Unification Organisation (ZRO) leaders in Churachandpur, Manipur shed light on the anticipations and apprehensions of the Zomi group. This scribe met with the leaders of Zomi Revolutionary Organisation (ZRO), the political wing of the ZRA, Zomi Council and Zomi HR Organization during his visit to the ZRA’s ‘Muvanlai Camp’. A meeting with UPF leader, H. Calvin (also the external Secretary of ZRO HQ and Join Monitoring Group member) and S. Hangshyan Thang (Secretary, GAD and Co-ordinator of ZRO at its HQ took place at Churachandpur. They were accompanied by Suanmoi Guite of the Zomi HR Council and KG Tungnung, Secretary of the Zomi Council. Speaking to this scribe, the UPF/ZRO leaders underlined the demand of an Autonomous Hill State under provision of Article 244A of the Indian Constitution, the reasons behind it and how it could help rectify the current situation in Manipur.
The UPF/ZRO leaders said that the complete arbitrary domination of the Meiteis in the state and the fact that they are very different to the hill tribes in Manipur has necessitated the demand for a separate arrangement. “The Manipur Government looks askance as far as the tribes are concerned. They are only concerned about the development of greater Imphal and valley for the Meiteis. The tribes living in the hills of the state are languishing with no development. In our area whatever development has taken place has been due to our own efforts”, they categorically stated.
The scribe could himself feel the stark underdevelopment even in his brief visit. Going a litter interior, something basic like drinking water is also scarce.
“There are 38 recognised tribes in the State of Manipur. There are inter-tribal conflicts, growth of armed groups and factions of almost every tribe having their different agenda. But in order to avoid future discord and achieve durable peace, it is imperative to adopt non communal approach to tribal issues. We immediately need some kind of political autonomy under the 6th schedule for our survival and we are sure that creation of an autonomous hill state within Manipur is answer to the diverse demands raised by diverse groups”, they opined. “Our demand is autonomous tribal state within the state of Manipur, having a separate administration. This arrangement would not disturb the existing boundary of Manipur and it was not against the Constitution. The SoO ground rules said the outcome of the talk should not disturb the existing boundary of Manipur.”
The ZRO/ZRA, want all Zomis, living in other parts of NE as also in Myanmar to unite mentally. “We have close affinity with our brothers in Myanmar. Their condition, both physically and politically, is even poorer/worse than us. But there is an international boundary in between. So we cannot think of geographical unification… mental unification is the way to go for us. However, ZRO strongly supports the democratic movement inside Burma. We also have our brothers in the CHT region of Bangladesh with whom we are trying to forge a mental unification”, said Thang.
Based in Churachandpur, the Zomis started a political movement with the ZRO as the leading and pioneering body. Our demand under 244A is a very valid and justified demand. We started off with the demand of an ‘Autonomous Tribal State’ but the term ‘tribal’ may have created confusion because in the hill areas there are many non-tribals too who co-exist and live with us. So we modified it and now our demand is for an “Autonomous Hill State”. Separate set of administration for the hill and the valley is the best way forward in today’s scenario. Disproportionate representation of the tribals in relation to population and land occupation in the State of Manipur, imbalance in the field of administrative set up and developments, unfair allocation of funds for the tribals are reasons glaring enough for demand for a separate arrangement.
The Zomi HR Organization lamented the fact that indigenous people are losing their rights over land, forests and natural resources. The ZHRO has already raised a strong objection to the idea of oil exploration and drilling in the hills/tribal areas of Manipur. “We have submitted our Charter of Demand. The Government has said that it is analyzing the same. Meanwhile in the last tripartite meeting held in December 2012 it was decided to appoint a political Interlocutor. PC Halders name has come up and we will be more than satisfied if a man of his immense capacity and knowledge acts as our Interlocutor. We are just awaiting the final nod to the appointment from the Government”, the UPF/Zomi leaders said, taking turns to speak.
It was also revealed to this correspondent that they are trying to forge a closeness and alignment with the Nagas. “In theory and principle our demand for an ‘Autonomous Hill State’ and the Nagas demand for ‘Alternative Arrangement’ is more or less the same and it can be aligned together into one. We have had a number of meetings with the UNC in the recent past including a meeting between the UPF, UNC and the NSCN-IM in Hebron on 11th of January where Mr. Muivah was himself present. We have forged a close understanding… we can feel, understand and relate to one another and the Nagas under the UNC also believed that our two demands can be aligned. Moreover, the Zomi Council continuously works to forge unity and understanding with the Hmar Inpi and Kuki Inpi”.
However, the UPF says it is unfortunate that the Kuki National Organizaiton (KNO) and the Kuki State Demand Committee (KSDC) are sticking to ‘nomenclature’ and demanding a separate Kuki state. “When all tribes have to co-exist, it is time not for selfish demands but to know broadmindedness. Political autonomy for the tribes and those occupying the hills of Manipur is more important now than sticking to own nomenclature. We find their demand unfortunate and sincerely hope that our KNO/KSDC will see sense and support and join us for an alternative ‘Autonomous Hill State’ for all hill people in Manipur.”
S. Hangsyan Thang, Suanmoi Guite and K.G. Tungnung took this scribe to the ZRA camp near the international border with Myanmar (the Chin state is on the other side). Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA) spokesperson and political advisor, Mosses accompanied the group on a guided tour of the camp after a two hour long treacherous drive. In 2010, the then Home Minister P. Chidambaram had visited the camp and promised to initiate talks. They are still waiting to talk.
It was revealed by the army commanders that the Camp came up in September 2010 and has been build on the model of ‘Hebron’ (NSCN-IM designated camp in Dimapur, Nagaland) to thwart any attack from outside. The camp commanders, the battalion commanders (three battalion in all) and Mosses said that it was not easy setting up the camp given the difficult terrain and regular attacks from Meitei underground groups. “We have impeccable relationship with the Indian Army and with their help we drove out all Meitei UG’s from this area. But we still keep ourselves alert against any attack. It took us almost 6 months to build this camp”, they informed.
This scribe found the Camp heavily guarded on all sides by armed cadres on strict vigil. The camp organization also look very disciplined but the leader rued the fact that the promised monthly stipend is not being released by the State Government. “There were 100 plus cadres but we have had to let many of them go to their native villages as it is increasingly difficult to maintain the expenses without proper release of stipend. The State Government on its part holds back the money to be released for us. There are now about 50 cadres only in the camp.” However, this scribe show new construction of a community hall cum indoor sporting facility being built inside the Camp. The camp has arms stock room where about 100 sophisticated weapons are lying under double lock. Only 20 odd weapons are in the hand of the ZRA members for their security. The water storage (pumped in from the nearby river flowing in from Myanmar) and its utilization at such high terrain is good to see. “Whatever the physical efforts the ZRO/UPF may put but the Government will only hear due to the ZRA and its cadres. They are our backbone and till the time they are grilling it out we know that the pressure will be on the Government to hammer out a solution. You take them out of the picture and our case will become week. The ZRA is actually the symbol of our right to self determination”, they said.
Expedite peace process: Zomi Revolutionary Organization
CHURACHANDPUR/TNN Mar 18, 2013: The Zomi Revolutionary Organization (ZRO), which is in a suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with the government, has demanded expedition of the peace process so a political dialogue can be initiated soon.
ZRO, the political wing of the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), is among seven Kuki-Chin-Zomi-Mizo rebel outfits under the apex body of United People's Front (UPF).
UPF and Kuki National Organization (KNO), another umbrella body of over 12 outfits of the four communities, had signed tripartite SoO agreements with the Centre and the state government in August 2008. Since then, the agreements have been extended annually.
"We in the UPF are demanding an autonomous hill state within Manipur with a separate administrative system," said Calvin H, 'external affairs secretary' of ZRO at a media conference held at Churachandpur district headquarters, about 65km from Imphal, on Sunday afternoon.
To begin the political dialogue, UPF is demanding that the government speed up the peace process, he added. "The ongoing process is a bit slow. Though we have the patience to wait, we demand that the government expedite it and hold the political dialogue soon," the ZRO leader said.
Calvin, who is also a member of the Joint Monitoring Group (JMG) of the SoO, said during the tripartite meeting held in January this year, the government had named former Intelligence Bureau (IB) director P C Haldar as interlocutor for the upcoming political dialogue.
He said the ZRA has over 400 cadres and around 100 of them are putting up at the designated camp in Mulvanlai area, about 45 km from Churachandpur district headquarters.
"Once the construction of another designated camp at Phaiba area in the district bordering Mizoram is complete, the remaining cadres will be accommodated there," he said, adding that the government might organize vocational training courses for the cadres.
Autonomous Hill State on UPF agenda
NEW DELHI, Feb 18: "We propose an Autonomous Hill State" said K Guite, Advisor of the Zomi Revolutionary Organization ( ZRO) and Representative of the United People's Front ( UPF) who arrived here in New Delhi today.
The current SoO extension of the UPF with the State and Centre Government will last till August this year.
Speaking to The Sangai Express, Guite said that UPF had submitted Memoranda and Charter of Demands to the Central Government. Appointment of an interlocutor and initiating a political dialogue is expected to begin soon, he said.
According to the ZRO advisor the proposal for an Autonomous Hill State is a non-communal approach.
Stating that the demand for an Alternative Arrangement for Naga areas and the Kuki Statehood demand are community specific that will further deepen the division among the communities of the hills, Guite said the Autonomous Hill State would not only speed up development in the hills but also bring peace in the hills and Manipur at large.
This administrative re-organization will also maintain the territorial integrity of the State.
"In their demand for a Kuki State, the KNO has violated the SoO preamble," declared Guite. While maintaining that UPF's demand is Constitutional, Guite explained that the proposal for an Autonomous Hill State will not only contain the various communal/tribal discord but also serve as a model solution not only in Manipur Hills but North East at large.
It will also protect National and State territory.
The proposed Hill State will empower the district councils, which is an upliftment of the existing Hill Area Committee.